As a veteran of the gospel-music scene, Richard Smallwood is quite the influential, beloved artist. Aretha Franklin, Destinys Child and fellow gospel vet Yolanda Adams are a few of the other artists who have recorded the Gospel Hall of Famers tunes. And just last month, Smallwoods music was honored at a Black History Month event at Winston-Salems Hanes Memorial CME Church, where several choirs saluted the artist by singing his songs.
No, I wasnt aware of it, but Im honored and humbled, says Smallwood, on the phone from Las Vegas. Even though he wasnt there for that event, the Atlanta native is looking forward to performing in the Tar Heel state, doing a show this weekend at the Carolina Theatre in Durham.
I definitely have ties, especially with the Durham area, because my family is from Durham my mother and my father. So, I used to come down every summer as a kid and stay with my grandmother.
Smallwood is happy to perform anywhere these days, considering the harrowing time he had last year. I also took off about eight months because I had a hip replacement, he says. Between January and September of 2012, the 64-year-old Smallwood was at his D.C. home, recuperating after doctors fixed a problem he didnt even know he had.
It was a birth defect that I wasnt aware that I had until about eight years ago, when I started having some pain and I went to the doctor and he said, Well, there are some issues with your right hip. But lets keep monitoring it.
Smallwood realized he needed surgery when the pain just kept getting worse. The actual socket where my hip fits was oblong as opposed to round, he says. So my hip joint never fit in that socket the way it was supposed to from birth. So all my life its been deteriorating.
Now that hes fully recuperated, Smallwood is back on the road, reminding audiences that not even a deteriorating hip can take out a man who has had a 30-plus-year career in gospel music.
I feel very blessed
People ask me, you know, all the time about the longevity thing, he says. And I dont really know the answer to that other than, I think, that what we are here to do, what weve been created to do is already planned, and I think, for whatever reason, God planned that Ive lived this long. I feel very blessed.
Smallwood admits that if you want a successful career in any musical genre, you always have to keep your eyes and ears open to the other music thats being performed out there, picking up new things along the way. Even though Smallwood is in his 60s, he knows that bettering himself as an artist is an lifelong process. You know what? he asks. I never like to put myself in a box, neither do I like to put myself in a time warp. I always try to keep current with whats going on around me musically. So, Im constantly listening to whats going on (with) musical styles. As contemporary as they may be, Im still listening because, you know, music still influences But still not sacrificing who I am or trying to become someone else. I still have my own style, my own influence.
Smallwood continues to perfect his own style alongside his group, Vision, which he formed in the early 90s. It was a direction that I feel that I got from God, he says. I had been with Smallwood Singers for years and years, this group that I had formed not too long after I graduated from undergrad school. And, then, I began to just have this feeling that I really need to do something different in terms of a group a larger group, more choir-oriented, more choral-oriented and I just decided to get people that I knew.
Smallwood made his debut with Vision when he dropped Adoration: Live in Atlanta in 1996.
And the plan was to only do an album with Vision, he says. I wasnt really sure what I was gonna do, but Total Praise was on that first album. And when that hit, it just took us to a whole new place. I mean, the demand for appearances and concerts just were like almost overwhelming. So, Vision became an ongoing organization.
Not the usual fans
In the end, Smallwood and Vision continue to make joyful noises wherever they go, gathering fans beyond the usual gospel audience.
I mean, Ive had sisters and brothers from the Jewish faith call me, he says. I had a young lady call me and say, Im a Realtor and Im having a Realtors conference. Would you come and sing some gospel music? And I was like, Sure, but you know the music we sing? She said, I dont care. I just love the feel. I love the sound. Can you come and do it?
So we did, like, a gospel presentation right before the beginning of the Realtors conference. So Ive been blessed to have sort of transcend a lot of barriers that may exist that I never had to really deal with.