Little Richard was remembered not just as a rock ‘n’ roll pioneer but a man of generosity and faith at a memorial service at his alma mater where he was laid to rest Wednesday.
Mourners gathered at Oakwood University to pay their respects, many wearing face masks and standing a few feet apart from each other.
“What I really remember about Richard was not his stage performances, which were certainly formidable, but what I remember most about Brother Richard, not Little Richard, but Brother Richard, was 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. Why he had money in the trunk of his car, only he knew, but he would take money out and give it to homeless people,” Pollard said. “He was a very generous and giving person.”
He also spoke of the thoughtfulness of the singer, who throughout his career sold more than 30 million records and notched a string of hits including ‘Tutti Frutti’, ‘Good Golly Miss Molly’ and ‘Keep a Knockin’.
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 colour 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, celebrated across America during the buttoned-down Eisenhower era.
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 the latter 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.