HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – A few days ago, the world lost an icon. Richard Penniman, known to the world as Little Richard, left an unmistakable mark on the world. But north Alabama, the city of Huntsville, left a mark on him.
We spoke exclusively to some who knew him, on the man behind the music, and his connection to the Rocket City, which he chose to be his final resting place.
“Richard Penniman, also known as Little Richard, was the self-proclaimed architect of rock-n-roll, and rightly so,” said the Penniman family’s spokesman, David Person.
But years before he was the world-renowned Little Richard, he was here.
“Richard was an alumnus of Oakwood University and his connection to Oakwood was very special to him,” said Person.
And the feeling, according to the Oakwood family, is mutual.
“We think it’s a treasure.” Dr. Leslie Pollard first met Penniman when he was 21. Now, serving as Oakwood’s president, he’s preparing Oakwood Memorial Gardens, which will serve as Little Richard’s final resting place.
“I feel like it’s really coming full circle. Even in his passing, he’s really coming back home,” said Pollard.
“There’s no doubt that that Richard’s journey was influenced by his time at Oakwood,” said Person.
That special connection extends from Oakwood’s campus to City Hall.
“Last night I made the announcement at the city council meeting that I would be presenting a resolution to the family on behalf of the mayor and the council members and the 200,000 plus residents here in Huntsville,” said Huntsville City Councilman Will Culver.
Culver says its for the family, and to recognize the man behind the music, who he calls a civil rights leader.
“People get caught up just on the music that he produced, but he was more than that,” said Culver.
“Black musicians from that era were robbed of royalties and opportunities, so he was outspoken about that,” said Person.
And everyone agrees, there was the larger than life persona but when off stage, he was just kind, generous, religious Richard.
“Richard was an unusually kind person, very generous, willing to give. There’s a whole side of him that most people never ever got to see,” said Pollard. “Beyond the hits and beyond those songs and all of that, the person that those of us who knew him knew, that’s the side that we hope will come forward during his funeral.”
The Penniman family is planning a private ceremony set to take place at Oakwood Memorial Gardens next week.