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American Voices: Gospel Master Session with Kim Burrell
World-class composer, pianist and arranger, Richard Smallwood has clearly and solidly changed the face of gospel music. He can impeccably blend classical movements with traditional gospel, and arrive at a mix that is invariably Smallwood's alone. A diverse and innovative artist, Richard Smallwood has achieved many honors; Dove Awards and a Grammy also attest to his talents.
Richard graduated cum laude from renowned Howard University with degrees in both vocal performance and piano. His gifts were stirred up early in life. At age five, he was playing piano by ear, at seven, began formal training, and at eleven, formed his first gospel group. Richard Smallwood is attributed with many gospel 'firsts'. He was a member of the first gospel group on Howard's campus, The Celestials. They were also the first gospel group to appear at Switzerland's Montreux Jazz Festival. In addition, Richard was one of the founding members of Howard's first gospel choir, and The Richard Smallwood Singers were the first black gospel group to go to the Soviet Union.
Richard Smallwood has been honored by the Smithsonian Institution as a "gospel innovator and songwriter," and his hometown, Washington, D.C. heralded two separate occasions as "Richard Smallwood Day," also, distinguishing him with the Mayoral Art Award for "precision and excellence in artistic discipline." Smallwood's gift has made room for him to minister to presidents and dignitaries at all of D.C.'s halls of fame, including the Smithsonian, the Kennedy Center and the White House. Touching all areas of the arts, Richard and his singers toured with a theatrical musical, "Sing Mahalia Sing" starring Jennifer Holiday, which segued into a guest appearance on television's "Ryan's Hope" for ABC.
Richard began his recording career in the late seventies with an album simply titled, The Richard Smallwood Singers. The debut project spent 87 weeks on Billboard's Gospel chart. The next project, Psalms received a Grammy nomination. Two years later, another nomination for Textures, the album that contained the classic, "The Center Of My Joy" penned by Richard Smallwood along with Bill and Gloria Gaither. The group continued to amass successive Grammy nominations with the following projects, Vision, Testimony and Live at Howard University. Richard continued to climb to the pinnacle of success, receiving a Grammy Award and Dove Award for his production of the Quincy Jones' gospel project, Handel's Soulful Messiah.
Richard's music has never been confined to any one artistic genre. His song, "I Love The Lord" crossed onto the big screen when Whitney Houston sang it in the film, The Preacher's Wife. The same song was also used in the tune,"Dear God" by R&B artists, BoyzIIMen on their CD titled, Evolution.
Richard, with his group Vision, have recorded three projects for Verity records, "Adoration", "Rejoice" and the newest entitled "Healing...Live in Detroit". Bound to be another hit in the gospel music arena. The song "Healing" is a stirring ballad that ministers to people encouraging the discouraged, God heals not only the body but also the soul of man. "Faith" is a joyous hip-hop song, the Bible says we are not given a spirt of fear but of peace, love and a sound mind. We can move mountains with faith just the size of a mustard seed. "Holy Thou Art God" is a modern day anthem. "It's a song of pure praise" says Richard.
Even with all of the secular accolades, Smallwood has never turned from the church. Bill Gaither says of Richard "I love Richard Smallwood because he is church, his songs speak to the heart of people ". Like "Center Of My Joy", Richard's songs "Total Praise", "We've Come to Praise Him" and "I Love the Lord" have become standards in churches throughout the world
"People need to know Someone can heal their hurts. I take no credit for the work we do. I owe it all to God and I feel blessed that for some reason He has chosen me to make a difference in people's lives." On a personal note, Richard confides, "I've learned to depend more on God than ever before, and I've acquired a hunger for His Word like never before." This seasoned professional, continues to deliver a timeless musical message of hope with creativity, sensitivity and power.