Beltway BuzzInterviews

Jared Sawyers: Richard Smallwood’s biggest fan discuss the legend’s influence and impact

Update: The concert has been canceled!! We will provide updates in the future, when available.

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 he has a rich history with gospel legend Richard Smallwood.

Positively Gospel caught up with Jared  to talk about how his friendship with Richard, and the story behind his plans for a tribute concert. THE EVENT IS CANCELLED

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 Smallwood fans in the galaxy. My uncle Dennis Sawyers was one of the Smallwood singers when I was a kid. in any genre, I’ve never heard any music in the world like Richards music. So I said no one had done a tribute to him in D.C., so why not put one on, and here we are. I’m pulling together some of the baddest groups in the area, 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 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 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. He makes sure that his music is scripturally based. That’s a major plus for me. And then the whole fusion of Gospel and classical, that makes his music very special. 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. They have a person who studied classical music in high school and college. It’s just the best of both worlds, Gospel and classical, for me.

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.Jared Sawyers, at age 18 or 19 with gospel legend Richard Smallwood

J.S.: Richard and I really got close. I’ve known him since I was a kid, but we really got close around the MySpace years. That was really a time when he had no real social media presence. That was really the beginning of his social media presence. A friend and I, around 2004, 2005, somewhere around there.  We put our heads together, and we came up with a template for the MySpace page. I went to Richard and said, let’s kind of get you out there more. He was working on a project at that time, “Journey”. Social media was really a big player in Journey’s major success. That was the whole album with “I’ll Trust You” and “Journey,” which Kim Burrell led, songs like that. It was really around that time that Richard and we really bonded over creating the MySpace page. When My Space kinda fell apart, Facebook became the new “it” thing, and we bonded over Facebook how better to reach his listeners and fans in the new social media age. That led to a really, really tight friendship. I guess that’s been 17 or 16 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. It’s just so many of us; we call it the Smallwood School of Music, so many of us who have looked up to forever and tried to play like him. Do we always hit the mark of playing like him? Probably not, but we can always, you know, shoot for the moon. For us, he is the moon. You know we look up to him. There are so many of us around the world who really just look up to him and his musicianship. Richard is also a very humble person. You’ve got so many people of his stature with their heads up in the cloud, and they are really caught up on themselves. That’s not Richard at all. So that’s encouraging to know somebody that’s had so much success and so many accomplishments, but he’s still a really down-to-earth, grounded person. That means a lot, just somebody who’s mentoring somebody so large in the industry and ministry.

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 text-messaged folks, and all I had to do was say I’m putting together a Richard Smallwood tribute and everyone wanted to know, what’s the date. There was no question about it. All I had to do was mention Richard’s name; the rest is history. It’s locked and loaded. Folks have been a go since day one.

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

J.S.: Charles Butler and Trinity are really, really hot right now. I’m glad that they were locked in from day one as well. It was actually right on the heels of them winning the stellar awards. They might be the latest group in our area that has won a Stellar. So, I’m excited to have them. They are perfectionists when it comes to sound. The thing about these groups that I pulled together. Charles is the best; he’s a taskmaster when it comes to his sound. I have no worries. Our run-through is today with all the groups and tomorrow morning, but I’m not worried about these groups at all. They are some of the best. We couldn’t get everybody on the bill. There are more groups that are not on the bill. But you know there are folks like Mike McCoy and his group, Michael White and his group, Sean Tillery and his group. These are some of the best. In school, they call it the best and the brightest. We are going to call it the best and the brightest for this event because they really are some of the best artists and most humble people I’ve ever met, and I said I’ve got to get them onto the program. For this Richard Smallwood tribute, we said we would go for the best, and we got the best right away.

P.G.: Can we expect any surprises tomorrow night?

J.S.: Yes, I have a couple of surprises up my sleeve. Maybe one or two people know about it, and I’m going to 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. Of course, he’s appreciative, but he’s so cool about it. His answer was cool, but I know him well enough to know that his answer was, “Jared, you got this; go for it.” From that response, it was straight to the folks that I mentioned. Tony Walker, the music director, Jerome Bell, the host, and we’ve been locked in since that time I got Richard’s response.

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. Truly he’s loved around the world. When you think about so many of the 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. He’s so cool, and he’s touched so many lives. I’m like, you’ve got to strike when the iron is hot. Let’s do this tribute now. It’s going to be a great time at First Baptist Church of Highland Park. All I can say is just be there! I want him to hear his music sung back to him, really from a perfectionist’s standpoint. Like I said, we have some of the hottest groups, and I know those parts, Richard’s parts, are not easy to learn, but these groups, I have the utmost confidence in that they are going to do Richard very, very proud tomorrow night. I just want him to sit back and smile.

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, 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 Monday. 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 3, there are so many. I have to start my mornings by listening to my Richard Smallwood playlist, and sometimes “I Give You Praise” may be my song of the day on Monday, and “Center of My Joy” by Wednesday is now my number one song. It kind of changes, but I really do love “I Give You Praise,” “Jesus Lover of My Soul,” and “I’ll trust You.” 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. In some cases, it may introduce some of this music to a new generation who’ve never heard these songs. Of course, everybody around the world knows total praise, it’s been out since’96, but there are so many songs that Richard wrote and released before “Total Praise” before that album. We want to kind of go back and touch on those and introduce folks to the ones that came before the “Total Praise album.” I just want that church to be rocking; that’s number one. There are going to be some moments where I know people are going to be crying; somewhere, they may be shouting and kicking around in the aisles. And that to me, that’s good church, and I want folks to leave the concert saying, “hey, we had good church tonight!”

More About Jared Sawyers:

In 2017, Jared Sawyers was credited by the producers of the PBS 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 Grammy, Stellar, and Dove Award-winning gospel artist, Richard Smallwood with the genealogical research for his 2019 autobiography, “Total Praise,” which has been added to Book Authority’s Top 100 Best Autobiography Books of All Time.

In 2011, Jared served as vice-chair to Mr. Ron Magnus for the 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 served in this role from 2011 through 2015 and returned in 2018 for a special memorial tribute to the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin.

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

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.

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