As those in attendance looked to their left, there he was! The living legend Richard Smallwood walked into a room filled with well-wishers. As he made his way toward his seat, the crowd rose to their feet. They applauded, they cheered, until Richard Smallwood reached his seat for this was the night. They all came to hear the songs of greatness that had emanated from this creative genius over the decades, This was the night that he would be honored and celebrated. It was very fitting and appropriate that this Richard Samllwood tribute took place on his 75th birthday.
First Baptist Church of Highland Park ( Pastor Dr. Henry P Davis III) was the place to be on Thursday, November 30, presented by Jared Sawyers. The parking lot was filled, with some resorting to parking on the street, determined not to miss this momentous occasion. The overflow room was also filled where the event could be viewed on screens.
DMV mainstays, famed broadcaster Jacquie Gales Webb, and gospel music industry insider Jerome Bell served as the night’s hosts. Throughout the night, they shared stories about their Smallwood experiences. After initial pleasantries, the celebration ensued.
It was a dazzling array of artists who would take the stage to perform. They had honed their craft by listening to or being mentored by the great maestro. This was their opportunity to pay homage to him.
The songfest kicked off with the Howard Gospel Choir of Howard University. Richard Smallwood was part of the founding group of students who led the charge to bring a gospel choir to the university.
Other impeccable performances soon followed and included performers by Sean Tillery & Changed, Phillip Carter and SOV (soloist Tynette Daniels), Mike McCoy and Voices United (soloist Helen Holmes), Roderick Giles & Grace (soloist Robert E. Person), Michael White & True Praise, Chester Burke Jr. & Company, Jimmy Russell and Because of Christ (soloist Ronnette Harrison-Rollins), The Vintage Gospel Singers of Washington, D.C. (soloist Bonita White). A poignant moment occurred when Dennis Sawyers, original Smallwood Singer, performed the solo on “I’ll Trust You.”with Patrick Lundy and the Ministers of Music.
Video tributes poured in. Jefferey LaValley, Angela Winbush, Tremaine Hawkins, the Hawkins Family and Love Center Church, Chrystal Rucker, Jonathan Nelson, John P. Key, Faith Evans, Bishop Jason Nelson, Ledisi, Donald Lawrence and original Smallwood Singer, Dottie Jones.
There were several presentations during the night. A resolution was read by Rev. Dr. Cheryl Sanders on behalf of the Howard University School of Divinity. President Joe Biden’s office even recognized the significance of the event. Rev. Dr. George E. Holmes presented the President’s Lifetime Achievement Award on behalf of the White House and placed the red, white, and blue medallion around the honoree’s neck.
There were a few surprises in the hours. Damien Sneed, who counts Smallwood as his mentor, took to the stage for a piano sole and displayed the mastery he is known for.
While her sisters toured in Paris, the Queen of the B3 Hammond Organ, Twinkie Clark, said she had to be there to honor Richard. After showing everyone in the room why she is rightly called the queen, she launched into the Twinkie-penned Clark Sisters classic, “Miracle.”
Anthony “Tony” Walker served as Musical Director, and the band included Daryl L A Hunt, Mike Pugh, Mark A. Walker, Tim Steele, and Josh Walker. The band served up musical excellence as they supported each performance. It was a full circle moment because Steele is the son of the late Tim Linzy, who was Richard Smallwood’s bass player.
In his remarks, tribute producer Jared Sawyers said, “Richard, I really believe that you have done very well with these 75 years. I’m grateful to everyone who came out. He then went on to thank those who had been instrumental in assisting with the production in various ways. There was also one more surprise in store as Jared announced that Mayor Muriel Bowser declared December 1 as “Richard Smallwood Day.”
As the night came to a close, Richard Smallwood shared his words of appreciation to so many. He said that the scripture talks about a prophet not being honored in his own town but said that was not the case for him. “This has been one of the most amazing moments of my life. This is something that I will always cherish, something that I will never forget. I thank God for all of you. The DMV has always been the most supportive folk anywhere I travel.” In line with his humility and graciousness, he also took time to encourage the audience to purchase Vision member Maurette Brown Clark’s new album, “He Loves Me.”
Roderick Giles & Grace made their way back to the stage. After all, the night could not end without the iconic “Total Praise.” The audience got a special treat as the living legend joined in singing his song that has become an international standard.
The Richard Smallwood Tribute was nothing short of extraordinary—an event destined to be etched into the hearts and minds of those in attendance and the online audience. This was more than just a moment; it was a captivating experience where the atmosphere was adorned with the fragrant blooms of homage to a living legend.
I planned the event with three goals in mind: (1) that we would gather and give God praise from a stage or platform that would reach thousands or even millions, (2) for us to let Richard know how much we love and appreciate him for who he is and for his major contributions to gospel music worldwide, and (3) to show the WORLD some of the great gospel groups, soloists, and musicians we have here in the DMV. ~Event Producer Jared Sawyers, a few days after the tribute.
For those who witnessed it, the Richard Smallwood Tribute is destined to become a timeless memory. It will be a conversation starter that begins with, “Were you there? Do you remember that moment?”
This tribute transcended the ordinary, leaving an indelible mark on the annals of time. It was a celebration of creativity, a testament to the enduring impact of Smallwood’s influence, and a shining example of the artistic richness that defines the DMV. If you missed it, you missed more than an event; you missed an unforgettable experience that will be recounted for years to come.
All is not lost. You can still watch the tribute on YouTube. As of the posting of this article, the tribute video has 146,000 views and counting. Check it out here.
© 2023 PositivelyGospel.com, Sarah Hearn, All rights reserved. Photos courtesy of Ginger Snaps Your Image