You would be hard-pressed to find someone as prolific a musician and as dedicated an educator as Richard Leeper was. Because of his dedication to the community and the arts, he became something of an irreplaceable icon for the area. When news of his passing spread on Friday, some of his closest friends spoke of the lasting impact that he's had on all of the people that were lucky enough to meet him.
According to Mark Alpaugh, a close friend and member of Richie Leeper's band Soul Revival, the death of Leeper to the people of the Jamestown area is incalculable.
"For over 45 years Richard Leeper has been an iconic presence in the music and entertainment community," said Alpaugh. "His loss is deeply felt and leaves a void that can't be filled."
Richard B. Leeper Sr.
Ron Graham, the founder of Infinity Performing Arts, had much to say about his experience with Leeper, and what a loss it is now that he has passed.
"It's a tremendous loss because guys like Richie don't come along very often, so do when they do they are special," said Graham. "When I got the news (Friday) morning I was as devastated as everyone. You can't replace those kinds of individuals."
Graham was friends with Leeper since the two were young boys.
"Richie was about three years older than I was, but we grew up together," said Graham. "We lived in the same neighborhood and walked to school together almost every morning. A lot of people might not know it because they know him as the artist, but Richie was a tremendous football player. He ran over me one day in practice, and that's kind of how we met."
Leeper and Graham remained friends for many years, said Graham, and although Leeper moved to Maryland for a time, when he returned Graham found a place for him at Infinity Performing Arts.
"At the time he returned to the area I was director at Infinity Performing Arts and I was trying to make sure that we had the best people that we could find the community to be instructors and mentors for our kids," said Graham. "So, I asked him if he wanted to get involved, even though there wasn't a lot of money in it, he didn't do it for the money anyway, he cared about the kids. He had a big influence on some young men that were in Infinity at the time. He taught them some of the nuances about stage presence, how to deliver songs, and he was truly in his element when he was doing so. I was glad we had a program in place that gave him an opportunity to touch some kids in that way."
According to Graham, Leeper was a self-taught musician and so he came at music from a different perspective.
"To him, it was all about feeling the music, and delivering what that feeling was. So, I know that he had an influence on Steve, as he did on a lot of young guys at that time."
His strong connection with Infinity allowed him to leave a lasting impression on many of the students and staff that worked at the program. Shane Hawkins, the current executive director of Infinity, remembers Leeper as not just a prolific musician and performer, but also as a wonderful person.
"He cared about people, he loved his family, and he cared about kids and his community," said Hawkins. "Rich was a mentor for many of our Infinity kids, he would perform with them, hang out and talk, and rehearsed here with his professional band. He was always willing to help in any way. "It's all about the kids" he said many times. I will miss him, his laugh, and how willing he was to take time to connect with people and make a positive difference."
Cale Hawkins, Shane Hawkins' son and a former Infinity student and instructor, was one of those kids that Leeper was able to work with during his time in Jamestown.
"Rich was more than just a great musician and a great mentor - he was a great friend," noted Hawkins. "He always went out of his way to help others out in any way he could. He was an incredible person, and he will be dearly missed."
Another former Infinity student and staff member, Stephanie Rogers, recalls how important it was to Leeper that future generations understood the importance of music.
"Richie affected the lives of so many local musicians who came after him," said Rogers. "He was always invested in making sure that upcoming generations were exposed to genres that could inspire musical growth. His legacy will live on through those of us who he inspired, and he will be missed so dearly."
It was only a few weeks ago when Leeper performed at the Crown Theater during a benefit for his niece. Steve Davis, one of Leeper's former pupils, had no idea that it would be the last time that he would have the pleasure of sharing the stage with the man who left such a lasting legacy behind.
"If Richie were here right now he would say, 'God is real, he is in control of everything and nothing happens by mistake," said Davis. "His relationship with God is the impact on my life that he leaves me with, to trust God and to know that with God everything is all right. My thoughts and prayers are with your family Richie, God bless them at this time.
"Every time I witnessed Richie with the microphone in his hand he was testifying the goodness of the Lord. And, he taught me the difference between a note being felt and a note being played. While playing a song during his niece's benefit he went into worship, I felt it, and I know that he felt it. The way he left his soul on the stage, right there in front of everyone and the way he would let out that high-pitched scream - he just always kept it real."