HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (AP) — Mourners gathered at Oakwood University to pay their respects as Little Richard was remembered not just as a rock ‘n’ roll pioneer, but a man of generosity and faith at a memorial service where he was laid to rest Wednesday.
“What I really remember about Brother Richard was not just his stage performances, but his incredible kindness and his generosity to people,” said university President Leslie Pollard, who knew Little Richard personally. “I remember those of us riding around with him in Los Angeles, and he’d have money in the trunk of his car which he would take out and give to homeless people,” Pollard said. “He was a very generous and giving person.”
“Once Richard met you and he knew you, he never forgot you,” Pollard said. “He remembered your family, your mother, your father, your sisters, your brothers. He had a genuine interest in people. Richard died on May 9 following a battle with bone cancer at 87.
Born Richard Penniman, Little Richard was one of rock ‘n’ roll’s founding fathers who along with Chuck Berry and Fats Domino helped shatter the color line on the music charts and brought what was once called “race music” into the mainstream. His hyperkinetic piano playing, coupled with his howling vocals and hairdo, made him an implausible sensation — a gay, black man celebrated across America during the buttoned-down Eisenhower era.
In his personal life, he wavered between raunch and religion, alternately embracing the Bible and outrageous behavior and looks — mascara-lined eyes, pencil-thin mustache and glittery suits.
For decades he’s influenced other musicians, everyone from The Beatles (Paul McCartney imitated Richard’s signature yelps) to David Bowie. More than 40 years after he charted, Bruce Springsteen was still performing “Good Golly Miss Molly” live.
For his final resting place, Richard chose Oakwood University, a historically black Seventh-day Adventist college in the northern Alabama city of Huntsville.