The explosive rock star Little Richard went to his rest quietly Wednesday with friends and family in attendance at a small funeral in Huntsville, Ala.
Born Richard Wayne Penniman, the Georgia native was buried in Oakwood Memorial Gardens Cemetery, a cemetery owned by Oakwood University, where Richard studied theology.
“It was a beautiful day,” said Marietta resident James “Big Jaye” Nelson, a dancer and singer with Richard’s band, who, along with fellow dancer/singer Shawn “Swift Andre” Johnson, served as an honorary pallbearer.
“It was overcast, but just as we drove up to the cemetery the sun broke through the clouds,” said Johnson, of Canton, Ga.
Attending the funeral was almost every member of Richard’s entourage, said Nelson -- “security, pilot, chauffeur, everybody” -- as well as Richard’s family and friends.
Oakwood president Leslie Pollard offered a remembrance, and there were closing remarks from Richard’s Seventh Day Adventist pastor Furman Fordham of Tennessee.
Richard’s niece Brandie Inez Sutton, who also performs with the Metropolitan Opera, sang a hymn, and the congregation joined in an unaccompanied version of “Blessed Assurance.”
“I broke down at the end,” said Nelson, “when they lowered him into his final resting place.”
Said Johnson, “I was torn up.”
Richard died May 9 of bone cancer. He was 87. Born in Macon, he rocketed to fame with a string of hits in
1955 and 1956 including “Tutti Frutti,” “Long Tall Sally,” “Rip it Up” and “Lucille.”
In 1957 he abruptly gave up rock ‘n’ roll to focus on religion, enrolling in what was then Oakwood College.
He would move back and forth between the religious and secular, but Nelson pointed out that in all the performances that he was a part of, for 16 years, he never saw Richard perform on a Friday evening.
Seventh Day Adventists keep the sabbath from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.
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