Heartfelt Reflections: Jared Sawyers Dives Deep into his Unforgettable Musical Odyssey with Gospel Legend Richard Smallwood

Jared Sawyers is a proud fifth-generation native Washingtonian with roots in Georgetown. He attended D.C. public schools before his family moved to Silver Spring, Maryland, where he graduated from Montgomery Blair High School. Music is one of his great passions, and he attended Morgan State University as a Piano Performance major. But what some may not know is that Jared has a rich history with gospel legend Richard Smallwood.

This Thursday, November 30, the DMV will pay homage to the musical genius and extraordinary gospel legend Richard Smallwood. Jared has meticulously curated a free event to celebrate the internationally acclaimed maestro. Drawing from the robust talent pool of DMV artists, The awe-inspiring lineup promises to captivate and resonate with the audience. In an exclusive interview, Jared shares his profound journey with the legend and sheds light on why this tribute is an indispensable homage to Smallwood’s award-winning legacy.

Positively Gospel caught up with Jared to talk about his friendship with Richard and the story behind his plans for a tribute concert.

P.G.: What led you to put this event on for Richard?

J.S.: The best answer is that I have always been one of the biggest Richard Smallwood fans in the galaxy. My uncle Dennis Sawyers, one of the greatest singers I know, was one of the Smallwood Singers when I was a kid. I’ve never heard any music like Richard’s. So I said no one had done a tribute to him in the D.C. area in a long time, so why not put one together…and here we are. I’ve pulled together some of the baddest soloists and groups in the area and some of the baddest musicians, and we’re going to let Richard just sit back and enjoy his music being sung back to him for a change. He’s been out on the road singing these songs for years, and he’ll hear them sung back to him now.

P.G.: You said you’ve never heard any music like Richard’s, so tell me what is it about Richard Smallwood’s music you think that has touched the hearts of people around the world? What makes it so special?

J.S.: Well, a lot of it comes directly from the Bible. Songs like “Psalm 8,” “My Everything (Praise Waiteth),” “His Mercy Endureth Forever,” and “Sow in Tears.” He makes sure that his music is scripturally based. That’s a major plus for me. And then the whole fusion of Gospel with classical and funk and pop, that makes his music very unique. There are people who have tried to make their music like him, myself included, but he is the originator when it comes to that classical gospel fusion. It’s just the best of both worlds, Gospel and classical, for me. The last thing is that his music really speaks to the everyday issues in our lives. His songs encourage us through our dark times, reminding us that the dark times are only temporary. Just what I need.

P.G.: I notice that you and Richard have had a long history. I know you talked about your uncle, but I think that the two of you also have quite a rich history together. Talk a little bit about that.

J.S.: I’ve known him since I was a kid – about 6 or 7 – but we really got close around the MySpace years. The early 2000s. That was really the beginning of his social media presence. A friend, Kenneth Hines, Jr., and I around 2004, 2005, somewhere around there. We put our heads together and came up with a design for Richard’s MySpace page. I went to Richard and said, “let’s get you out there more.” He was working on a new project at that time, “Journey.” That was the album with “I’ll Trust You” and “Journey,” which Kim Burrell led…songs like that. I was a Production Assistant at that recording in New York City. That was an amazing experience for me. I’ll never forget it. Social media was really a big player in Journey’s major success though. It was really around that time that we really bonded over creating the MySpace page. He enjoyed being able to interact directly with his listeners and fans online for the first time. When My Space kind of faded out, Facebook became the new “it” thing, and we bonded more over Facebook; to better reach his listeners in the new social media age. That led to a really tight friendship. I guess that’s been 16 or 17 years now.

P.G.: So, you were relatively young at that time. Would you say that some things impacted you from Richard being a part of your life, and what would those be?

J.S.: Absolutely! Number one, his musicianship. To me, it’s second to none. He’s a master when it comes to playing, writing, and arranging. There are many of us – we call it the “Smallwood School of Music,” so many of us who have looked up to him forever and tried to play like him. Richard is also a very humble person. You’ve got so many people of his stature with their heads up in the clouds, and they are really caught up on themselves. That’s not Richard at all. So that’s encouraging to know somebody who has had so much success and so many accomplishments, but he’s still a really down-to-earth, grounded person. That means a lot.

P.G.: You brought in a lot of great artists, especially in the DMV. Tell me about the mechanics behind getting these folks to come in and do this tribute.

J.S.: I called folks, and I texted folks. All I had to say was, “I’m putting together a Richard Smallwood tribute,” and everyone wanted to know when and where. All I had to do was mention Richard’s name and the rest is history. It’s locked and loaded. Folks have been on board since day one. I’m especially grateful to Tony Walker (Musical Director) and the dynamic band that he has pulled together. He and Daryl Hunt are playing keys, Mark Walker is on bass, Mike Pugh is on lead guitar, and on drums, we have two guys who were raised around the Smallwood crew. Josh Walker is Tony’s gifted, young son, and Tim Steele is the son of Debbie Steele-Hall, one of Richard’s sopranos since 1995, and the late, great Tim Linzy, Richard’s former bass player and rhythm arranger.

P.G.: Was there anyone that you were hoping would be a gotcha, and you were able to get that person?

J.S.: Yes, several. Roderick Giles & Grace are doing great things right now. I’m glad that they were locked in from day one. Roderick is a perfectionist when it comes to vocals. There are other folks like Patrick Lundy and his choir, Chester Burke, Jr. and his group, Mike McCoy and his group, Sean Tillery and his group. They just did a live recording back in June 2022. These are just some of the groups. Great DMV vocalists Ronnette Harrison-Rollins, Tynette Daniels, and Robert E. Person will all be part of this concert as well. For this Richard Smallwood tribute, we said we would go for the best, and we got some of the best in the area right away.

P.G.: Can we expect any surprises?

J.S.: Yes, I few great surprises up my sleeve. We’re celebrating Richard’s 75th birthday, so what would a birthday party be without a few surprises? Maybe one or two people know about them, but I’ll leave it at that. (laughs)

P.G.: When you went to Richard and said I want to do this tribute for you, how did he react?

J.S.: His immediate response was, “That sounds cool. Go for it.” Because he’s so humble, he doesn’t get caught up on tributes and stuff. It’s not why he does what he does. Of course, he’s very appreciative, but he’s so low-key about it. The ministry is the most important to him. After I got his response, I went straight to the folks that I mentioned. Tony Walker, the Musical Director, Rev. Jerome Bell, and Jacquie Gales Webb, the hosts. We’ve been locked in since I got Richard’s response. He’s very excited about this celebration. His family and many of his friends who have been very supportive of his ministry, going back to his childhood, will be there.

P.G.: What do you want Richard to walk away from this feeling?

J.S.: Loved and appreciated for all that he’s given the gospel music industry. Not just in the DMV but around the world. He’s loved all around the world. When you think about the many legends that we’ve lost over the last several years, we really are grateful to still have Richard in our midst. Like I said, he’s such a cool person, very down-to-earth, very grounded. But he has touched so many lives. And I guess you could say he has even saved some lives. He has received testimonies from people saying that his music kept them from committing suicide. That’s deep and not to be taken lightly. His ministry has certainly not been in vain. I just wanted us do this tribute NOW so he can feel the love. It’s going to be a wonderful night at the First Baptist Church of Highland Park. Like I said, we have some of the hottest groups, and I know these songs, Richard’s songs, are not easy to learn, but these groups – I have the utmost confidence that they are going to do Richard very, very proud on Thursday night. I just want him to sit back and smile. And I know he’s going to cry too.

P.G.: I’m going to put you on the spot now. What are your top three Richard Smallwood songs? I know you’re going to say that you love them all, but I’m sure there are two or three that just touch you deeply, that maybe take you through certain times.

J.S.: My absolute favorite is “Trust Me.” I was just talking to Richard about it. As simple as that song is, it still packs quite a punch. You know we go through life with so many ups and downs, so many hurdles we have to jump over, and if we just focus on that simple message of trusting God, everything will be alright. The Bible says everything is going to be alright if we just chill out. “Be still and know that I am God.” Or “all things are working for the good of those who love Him.” Those kinds of messages are really the ones that hit close to home and will stay with you forever. So “Trust Me” is the major one for me. I love “Sow in Tears.” Again, because we go through life’s ups and downs, but there is a reward at the end. You reap in joy; that’s one of God’s promises. Number three…there are so many. (laughs) I have to start my mornings by listening to my Richard Smallwood playlist. “I Give You Praise” may be my “song of the day” on Monday, “Center of My Joy” by Wednesday, and “Mender” by the weekend. It varies. I love all of his songs for different reasons. Sometimes, it’s the message, and other times, it may be the intricacies of the background harmonies. There are so many that it’s hard to narrow it down to just three, so the number three could be nineteen different songs (laughs).

P.G.: What do you want folks who are attending the event to really know and what to expect?

J.S.: We’re going down memory lane. We’re going back to some of Richard’s music from the ’70s and coming up to the present day. In some cases, it may introduce some of this music to a new generation who has never heard these awesome songs. Of course, everybody around the world knows Total Praise. It’s been out since’96, but there are so many great songs that Richard wrote and released before the “Total Praise” album. That church is going to be rocking. No doubt about that. There are going to be moments where I know people will be crying. Others may be shouting and kicking around in the aisles. (laughs) And that, to me, that’s good church. I want folks to leave the concert saying, “We had good church tonight!” Above all, I hope someone gets to know the Jesus we’ll be singing about that night. That’s number one.

More About Jared Sawyers:

Jared Sawyers

In 2017, Jared Sawyers was credited by the producers of the PBS genealogy show, “Finding Your Roots,” for researching and helping to develop an episode that featured Tonya Lewis-Lee, Suzanne Malveaux, and Bryant Gumbel. He also assisted Richard Smallwood with the genealogical research for his 2019 autobiography, “Total Praise,” which has been added to BookAuthority’s Top 100 Best Autobiography Books of All Time.

From 2011 through 2015, Jared served as Vice-Chair to Mr. Ron Magnus for the nation’s annual celebration of Gospel Music Heritage Month, which was written into law in 2008, thanks to the efforts of Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee and Senator Blanche Lincoln. Mr. Sawyers returned in 2018 for a special memorial tribute to the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, featuring Yolanda Adams, Regina Belle, Jennifer Holliday, and others.

Mr. Sawyers is currently writing a book based on the lives of select African-American pastors of various denominations who served in Washington, DC between the 1840s and the 1970s.

© 2023, Sarah Hearn, All rights reserved.

Sarah Hearn
the authorSarah Hearn
Sarah Hearn is Editor-in-Chief of, founded in 2011. The site was recently named among Feedspot's Top Gospel and Christian Music Websites. Sarah is a member of the National Association of Black Journalists and the Gospel Music Association.

1 Comment

  • I’m so very proud to be able to say I gave birth to this wonder! I knew when I carried him that he had great purpose. I’m happy to witness as he merely scratches the surface and walks further into his purpose. Jared, your best remains yet to come.

    With love and pride,

    Your Mom

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