The American rock’n’roll pioneer Jerry Lee Lewis has died Friday aged 87 of natural causes at his home in DeSoto County, Mississippi. Songs like Great Balls of Fire helped install rock’n’roll as the dominant American pop music of the 1950s. His first performance was at the age of 14 at the opening of a car dealership. Some of his earliest recordings were made in 1956 with Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins. The Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On, a barnstorming piano-driven rock’n’roll single performed on television brought his unique playing style to national attention in 1957. He was subject of controversy during an 1958 UK tour after it was revealed he had married his 13-year-old cousin, Myra Brown. Blacklisted, he never again had a US Top 20 hit. He continued with country-western music and had a dozen gold records in rock and country.
Lewis recorded 40 studio albums, the most recent being Rock & Roll Time in 2014. His 2006 album Last Man Standing was his best selling release, with over a million copies worldwide. He won four Grammy awards, including a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and two Grammy Hall of Fame Awards. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2022. Music critic Robert Christgau said: “His drive, his timing, his offhand vocal power, his unmistakable boogie-plus piano, and his absolute confidence in the face of the void make Jerry Lee the quintessential rock and roller.” Elton John tweeted after Lewis death: “Without Jerry Lee Lewis, I wouldn’t have become who I am today. He was groundbreaking and exciting, and he pulverized the piano. A brilliant singer too. Thank you for your trailblazing inspiration and all the rock ‘n’ roll memories.” Lewis had seven marriages.