How Little Richard set the mold by breaking it

Not yet 25, he’d already recorded most of the chattering, licentious classics—“Tutti Frutti,” “Long Tall Sally,” “The Girl Can't Help It”—that anchored the career now being mourned upon his death today at age 87. But he started seeing eerie signs: fiery plumes from a plane’s engines; a red blaze streaking in the sky over one of his concerts (perhaps, it’s been speculated, from the Sputnik launch). The gospel-rock pioneer Sister Rosetta Tharpe had him open a show for her when he was 14; soon after, he began performing in vaudeville revues, which helped hone his showmanship and his makeup skills. An early record contract that failed to produce any hits left him disillusioned, and by the time of his big break he was working as a dishwasher in a Greyhound station. Gallery: Little Richard - The singer's life and career in pictures (USA TODAY) Indeed, hired songwriters reworked some of Richard’s original, overtly raunchy lyrics to be radio-friendly.