Oakwood University was where Little Richard attended school to study theology in the late 1950s

By Georgia Slater
May 16, 2020 01:00 PM
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A burial has been set for legendary musician Little Richard, who died of bone cancer on May 9.

The rock and roll icon, born Richard Wayne Penniman, will be buried at Oakwood University, a historically black university in Huntsville, Alabama, the Associated Press reported Friday.

Gerald Kibble, the director of Oakwood Memorial Gardens, said there will be a private funeral in honor of Little Richard on Wednesday which will not be open to the public.  The Seventh-day Adventist university owns the cemetery, according to the AP.

Little Richard's place of burial is significant as Oakwood University was where the artist attended school to study theology in the late 1950s, said his close friend Pastor Bill Minson.

The musical trailblazer, who was known for his electrifying stage presence and lively piano skills, died on May 9 at the age of 87, his agent Dick Alen confirmed to PEOPLE.

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"Little Richard passed away this morning from bone cancer in Nashville. He was living with his brother in Nashville," Alen told PEOPLE. "He was battling for a good while, many years. I last spoke to him about two or three weeks ago. I knew he wasn’t well but he never really got into it, he just would say 'I’m not well.' He’s been suffering for many years with various aches and pains. He just wouldn’t talk about it much.”

The musician rose to fame in the 1950s and quickly became a prominent figure in the rock and roll scene for his energized performances behind the piano.

With major hits including "Tutti Frutti," "Long Tall Sally" and "Good Golly, Miss Molly," Richard's raspy voice, signature six-inch coif, mascara mustache, and manic behavior earned him the title of one of the most influential musicians in history.

Since "Tutti Frutti" (with the iconic lyric "a wop bop a loo bop, a wop bam boom!" lyric) in 1956, he has sold more than 30 million records. No performer deserves more credit for the metamorphosis of black rhythm and blues into rock'n'roll. The Beatlesthe Rolling Stones, and Elvis Presley all credited him as a seminal influence.

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Onstage, his act was far ahead of its time: He tore off his clothes, leaped upon the piano, and embraced androgyny long before the likes of Mick JaggerElton John, and David Bowie.

He continued his music career through the '70s, but he eventually took a break due to health problems and his desire to return to Evangelism.

By the late '80s, he was back in the spotlight performing, and in 1986, Richard was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 2000, his life was played out in a historical drama called Little Richard.

Richard continued performing until 2016, collaborating with artists including Jon Bon Jovi and Elton John, and headlined shows across the country.

On April 28, 2016, Richard's friend, Bootsy Collins, wrote on Facebook in a since-deleted post that the musician was "not in the best of health" and needed "all the Funkateers to lift him up," according to Rolling Stone.

Richard then remained out of the spotlight, living in downtown Nashville, until his final days.