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Richard Smallwood is a legend in his own time. After four decades as one of the most popular inspirational artists in the music business, with classic tunes such as “Total Praise;” “Center of My Joy;” and “I Love the Lord” to his credit, the Grammy-nominated singer, songwriter and pianist continues to enjoy widespread popularity and influence. His songs have been recorded by Whitney Houston, Destiny’s Child, Kelly Price, Gerald Levert, American Idol’s Ruben Studdard, and a who’s who of the gospel world. Even the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, has recently recorded a Richard Smallwood tune, “Faithful,” on her latest CD.
Recently, while standing before a recording studio full of hand-picked friends and music industry colleagues, gathered for an intimate live recording session of Smallwood’s new CD, PROMISES (Verity Gospel Music Group), he made a startling confession. “I had not written a song since my mom died in 2005,” he told the stunned audience. “I thought the gift I had dried up. I would try to write and nothing would come. I’d sit at the piano, I’d pray and there was nothing.”
“Then, in 2009, I was watching CNN and was overwhelmed by the negativity I saw,” Smallwood recalls as his breakthrough. “I began to think that, regardless of what the media says, we as God’s children are heirs to the Kingdom and He has made us certain promises. He promised that He’d take care of us, and that He’d provide for us. If God says it, that settles it. I wanted to write a complete project with songs that dealt with the promises found in His Word so that I could encourage and remind us that God is still in control. Soon after, I began dreaming songs. I have dreamed a few songs before, but I can count the times on one hand that I remembered what I had dreamed after I had awaken. But this time, not only could I remember what I had dreamed but sometimes more than one song would come at the same time and I could barely keep up with them. I knew that God was saying something that we all needed to hear.”
We can now hear what is arguably Smallwood’s most personal and intimate album yet. It features a tribute to his musical mentor, Walter Hawkins, who died of pancreatic cancer this past July; a collaboration with his protégé, Donald Lawrence; a cameo by jazz-soul artist Lalah Hathaway (daughter of his `60s Howard University classmate, Donny Hathaway); his trusty ensemble of singers known as Vision; and yet another collaboration with his co-producer Steven Ford who first collaborated with Smallwood on his 1987 CD Textures, which included the popular “Center of My Joy.”
With Smallwood’s vast accomplishments, it could be easy to rest on his laurels, but that’s not his style. Since childhood, the Atlanta, GA native has been driven. His father, former pastor of the historic Union Temple in Washington, D.C., was a tough taskmaster, and his mother encouraged his early love of music. The two extremes fueled his passion. He began to play piano by ear by the age of five. By seven, he was taking formal lessons and by eleven, had formed his own gospel group. In junior high school, future pop star Roberta Flack was one of his teachers and musical mentors. He later graduated from Howard University cum laude with a degree in music. He was very active on campus as a member of Howard’s first gospel group, the Celestials, and a founding member of the renowned Howard Gospel Choir. Along the way, he also developed lifelong relationships with fellow classmates such as Donny Hathaway, Debbie Allen, and Phylicia Rashad who would all make names for themselves in show business.
After college, Smallwood taught music at the University of Maryland before founding the Richard Smallwood Singers in 1977. Their progressive, contemporary sound earned them a record deal with Benson Records in 1981. Their debut LP, The Richard Smallwood Singers, spent 87 weeks on Billboard magazine’s Spiritual chart and cultivated a fresh, young sophisticated audience for the ensemble. Their next LP, Psalms, hit #1 and they were on a roll. They, then moved over to Word Records in 1987 where they recorded gospel standards such as “Center of My Joy,” “Calvary,” and “Holy Holy.” The group’s popularity led to an invitation to perform in the Soviet Union – reportedly the first gospel group to do a concert tour of the country at the time.
After a couple of albums with Sparrow Records in the early `90s, Smallwood retired the Smallwood Singers and birthed the choir, Vision. Their debut CD, Adoration: Live in Atlanta, appeared on Verity Records in spring 1996. It featured the smash radio singles “Total Praise” and “Angels.” In the years since, Smallwood and Vision have released radio blockbusters such as “Healing,” “Anthem of Praise” and “Bless The Lord.” It’s been over four years since Smallwood’s last project, Journey: Live In New York, which debuted at #1 in fall 2006 and spawned the radio hit, “I’ll Trust You.”
With co-producer Steven Ford (who has collaborated with artists ranging from Vickie Winans to Tye Tribbett) at the helm, Smallwood offers the same sophisticated symphony of praise that established his name over 30 years ago. “Not too many people understand my musical insanity,” he joked at the live session. “And Steven Ford has been working with me since the Middle Ages.” The two veterans pulled their best resources to spotlight a collection that spotlights not only the promises of God but also further solidifies Smallwood’s stature as one of gospel music’s greatest tunesmiths. Like Donald Lawrence said on that cool December evening, “Richard writes like Rogers & Hammerstein. His songs are ageless and they never go away.”
That’s a promise that Richard Smallwood is sure to keep.
Tickets at Howard theater.com
Thank you everyone for all of the birthday love. Every comment, salutation and greeting is much appreciated. Much love to everyone!!!!!!.....Richard
Today is Richard's birthday! Wish him a very special happy birthday in the comments and also on his Instagram! --- www.instagram.com/smallrich
FEB 3, 2017, 8PM.. VISION AND I WILL BE IN CONCERT AT THE HISTORIC HOWARD THEATER. TICKETS ARE ON SALE NOW!
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So excited about this..finally. TWENTY years ago, I was contacted by the great Bill Gaither to come and be a part of a three day celebration of black gospel music. Just about every pioneer who was alive at the time who were or who ever had been in gospel music were invited, The Original Gospel Harmonettes, Albertina Walker and The Caravans, members of the original Clara Ward Singers, Members of the Roberta Martin Singers, The Soul Stirrers, Members of Mattie Moss Clarks Southwest Michigan State Choir, pioneer pianist (and my influence) Herbert Pee Wee Pickard, Billy Preston, Joe Ligon, The Barrett Sisters..and the list goes on and on. Walter Hawkins, Jeffrey LaValley, Donald Vails, Patrick Henderson, myself and a couple of others were the youngest ones there. These were people that most of us had grown up on and I was in AWE. The way that God came through those studios and blessed us was amazing. Unfortunately Malaco Records would not allow the video to be released, but 20 years later its finally available. Although some clips can be found on youtube, this is the entire thing available for pre order now. Many are gone now, so this is real history and the only time gospel music history of this magnitude can be found on DVD. Check it out and get your copy.
store.gaither.com Gospel Pioneer Reunion DVD and CD Pioneer Gospel Reunion features some of the most well-loved traditional gospel music trailblazers joining together for a joyful celebration in song. Legends including Richard Smallwood, Jennifer Holliday, Walter Hawkins, Albertina Walker and more gathered around th...
Have you had a chance to listen to the latest project #ANTHOLOGY Live? Share what your favorite song is from this project. If you hadn't listened yet, download it right now!