Oakwood University alumnus, Little Richard, to be buried at his alma mater Wednesday

A private service will be held for the icon of rock and roll on Wednesday morning.

Posted: May 17, 2020 11:23 PM
Updated: May 20, 2020 7:55 AM

Pioneer of rock and roll and devoutly religious man Richard Penniman, a.k.a. Little Richard, will be buried at his alma mater, Oakwood University, on Wednesday.

Those who knew the Macon, Georgia, native said that it's not surprising that he would return to campus for his final resting place.

Little Richard studying at Oakwood University. (Courtesy: Oakwood University) Little Richard studying at Oakwood University. (Courtesy: Oakwood University)

"Oakwood University or Huntsville may not have been Richard's, I'll say, familial home, but I would say in many ways, it was his spiritual home," said David Person, the spokesman for the Penniman family.

Many will remember Little Richard as the 'War Hawk' for his powerful singing style or for his masterful command of the stage the inspired musical legends for generations.

But after he rose to stardom in the 50's, Richard Penniman put the persona on pause and came to Huntsville, Alabama, to attend what was then Oakwood College to study ministry.

Person said that his time at Oakwood helped inform some of the choices he made when Penniman eventually returned to the stage.

"Richard had a team of people that traveled with him whose sole responsibility was to put religious literature on every seat in any venue that he performed in" said Person.

The men's dorm on campus, Peterson Hall, was Penniman's home when he first arrived in Huntsville in the late 50's. And it was on the campus that Person said the rock and roll legend planted the seeds of his spiritual journey.

"Ultimately, I think he landed in that sweet spot where he understood that Little Richard and Richard Penniman could both serve God," said Person.

"That's rare today to find people who are honest on their spiritual walk," said Dr. Leslie Pollard, the current president of Oakwood University.

Dr. Pollard first met Little Richard when he was in his 20s in California. He said that the singer's time at Oakwood made it clear why he would want to return to the school to be buried.

"The fingerprint of that experience never left him," said Dr. Pollard.

Huntsville City Councilman Will Culver has been working with Oakwood University and the Penniman family to coordinate the private funeral service set for Wednesday. 

He said it will be a great honor for the city to welcome Little Richard back in a way that everyone who visits Huntsville will be able to appreciate from here on.

"It says that, first of all, our community embraces the kind of diversity that he embodies," said Culver.

Residents and visitors alike will be able to pay their respects to the man who helped rock and roll soar. 

"The Beatles were opening for him at one point, not him for The Beatles. I mean you realize that when he said that he was the architect of rock and roll, I think he was right," said Person.

The private service is scheduled for 11 a.m. at the Oakwood Memorial Gardens.

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