GOOD GOLLY—Little Richard acknowledges the crowd while being wheeled onstage during Mercer University’s commencement ceremony.


by Wayne Crenshaw

MACON, Ga.–Not far from where he grew up decades ago in poverty and segregation, Mercer University bestowed music legend Little Richard with an honorary doctorate of humanities.

At the school’s commencement ceremony, more than 500 graduates and a near capacity crowd at Hawkins Arena gave him a rousing standing ovation after school President Bill Underwood presented him with the degree.

Born Richard Wayne Penniman 80 years ago in Macon, he didn’t speak and left immediately after getting the degree. In an interview prior to the ceremony, he said he recently had hip surgery and wasn’t feeling well. He was in a wheelchair.

He has long lived in Hollywood, but said Macon is close to his heart and he was honored to get the degree.

“I feel good getting this degree,” he said. “I appreciate them giving it to me. I have a lot of good friends here in Macon, although they are old now.”

Underwood began his introduction of Little Richard with an attempt at the opening lyrics of his first hit, “Tutti Frutti,” “A-wop-bom-a-loo-lop-a-lomp-bom-bom,” Underwood said, depending on one’s interpretation. “That is the sound of the birth of rock and roll, a sound born deep in the American South, in a segregated neighborhood, here in Macon, Georgia, in the mid 1950s.”

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