Richard Smallwood is a legend in his own time. After over 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, Stellar and Dove Award winning songwriter and musician continues to enjoy worldwide popularity and influence. His songs have been recorded not only by major gospel artists such as Yolanda Adams, Karen Clark Sheard and the father of contemporary gospel music, Edwin Hawkins to name a few, but artists such as Whitney Houston, Chaka Kahn, Destiny’s Child, Kelly Price, Ledisi, Gerald Levert, Reuben Studdard and the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin.
With Smallwood’s vast accomplishments, it would be easy to rest on his laurels, but that’s not his style. Born in Atlanta, Georgia and raised in Washington, D.C. he has been driven since childhood. His stepfather, C.L. Smallwood, founding pastor of DC’s historic Union Temple Baptist Church and other churches all over the country was a tough taskmaster, and his mother Mabel encouraged his early love of music. The two extremes fueled his passion. He began to play by ear at the age of five. By seven, he was taking formal lessons and by eleven had formed his own gospel group made up of neighborhood children.
In junior high school, future pop icon Roberta Flack was one of his teachers and influenced him greatly. He graduated from the music major program at McKinley High School and entered Howard University majoring in piano performance and minoring in voice. He was a student of the late great Dr. Thomas Kerr, Jr. Smallwood was very active on campus as a member of the first gospel group on Howard’s campus, the Celestials and was a founding member of the Howard Gospel Choir. One of the first upper classmen he met was Donny Hathaway who influenced him tremendously. Smallwood played and wrote for a number of Howard’s drama department productions and worked alongside fellow students Phylicia Allen-Rashad and Debbie Allen. A member of Pi Kappa Lambda, the national music honor society, he graduated cum laude in 1971. Two years later in 1973, the Celestials would become one of the first gospel groups to ever perform at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Montreux Switzerland.
After graduation, Smallwood taught music privately, at the Washington School of Music, the DC Public School System and the University of Maryland, College Park. He formed the Richard Smallwood Singers in 1977 and got his first record deal with Benson records in 1981. His debut LP, “The Richard Smallwood Singers” spent eighty-seven weeks on “Billboard Magazine’s” Spiritual chart and cultivated a fresh, young sophisticated audience for the ensemble. It featured the now classic hit, “I Love The Lord” which was later recorded by Whitney Houston for the movie, “The Preachers Wife”. His next LP “Psalms” hit #1 and he and the Smallwood Singers were on a roll. He then moved over to Word Records where he wrote, arranged and recorded gospel standards such as “Center of My Joy”, “Holy Holy” and “Calvary”. In addition to traveling all over the US and Europe, he and his groups popularity lead to an invitation to perform in the Soviet Union in 1989; reportedly the first gospel group to do a tour of the country at the time. After a couple of albums with Sparrow Records in the early ‘90’s, Smallwood retired the Smallwood Singers and birthed the ensemble “Vision” in 1995. Their debut CD, “Adoration-Live in Atlanta” on Verity Records in the spring of 1996 and featured smash radio singles “Angels” and the now classic “Total Praise”. In the years since, Smallwood and Vision have released classics such as “Healing”, “Anthem of Praise” and “Thank You”. His project “Journey-Live in New York” featuring the Hawkins Family, Kelly Price and Chaka Khan, debuted at #1 on the Billboard Gospel Charts in fall of 2006. His 2011 release “Promises” also debuted at #1 and further solidified Smallwood’s stature as one of gospel music’s great and enduring tunesmiths. The single “Trust Me” became an instant hit and choirs all over the country and even other parts of the world began to make it a staple in their repertoires. His latest offering “Anthology” released in June of 2015 and debuting at #1 on the Billboard Charts has become the talk of the industry. It was recorded live at Evangel Cathedral in Upper Marlboro, MD to a capacity-filled audience. It traces Smallwood’s history using the music that has made him legendary as well as new music such as the hit first single “Same God”. His classic Total Praise has been sung in different languages throughout the world, and was recently sung for visiting Pope Francis as he was hosted by President Barack Obama at the White House.
Smallwood earned a Master of Divinity in 2004 from Howard University School of Divinity and was subsequently ordained at his home church, Metropolitan Baptist Church where he also serves as artist in residence. In 2006, he was inducted into the GMA’s Gospel Music Hall of Fame. He has recently explored his gift as an author and completed his autobiography, which is soon to be released.