Anthem of Praise: A Salute to Richard Smallwood

April 21, 2024

If any fans or practitioners of gospel music in New Haven had been unaware that the Institute of Sacred Music offers an Interdisciplinary Program in Music and the Black Church, they are unaware no longer. The program burst into the spotlight Friday evening with an exuberant celebration of gospel music at the College Street Music Hall. A star-studded cast of performers from all over the country came to pay tribute to music legend Richard Smallwood. View the video of the entire concert here.

Mr. Smallwood was in attendance, sitting in the front row in a crimson blazer, and many of the performers addressed their remarks and songs directly to him. Several of his compositions were performed, including “Total Praise,” “The Center of My Joy,” “Trust Me,” and “I Love the Lord.” Mr. Smallwood’s vocal group Vision accompanied the guest soloists and performed several numbers by themselves, displaying their prodigious talents both collectively and individually. A 100-voice community choir, assembled specially for this event, provided inspirational backup vocals. Braxton Shelley, director of the ISM’s program in Music and the Black Church, emceed the event, and conductor DeWayne Woods coordinated the music on stage.

Guest artists included John Holiday, Karen Clark Sheard (pictured below), Donald Lawrence, Tramaine Hawkins, BeBe Winans, the Walls  Group, and Joseph Joubert. A full auditorium greeted each guest with cheers and applause, and demanded a reprise of every number before the performer left the stage. The music paused only for the recitation of a proclamation from the City of New Haven to “honor and recognize Mr. Richard Smallwood,” followed by a few words of appreciation from the honoree. The performance concluded with everyone in the auditorium joining together to sing “Total Praise.”

Gospel music will be heard again at a hymn festival, “All Creation Sings,” in honor of the Institute of Sacred Music’s 50th anniversary. That festival will be held on Sunday, May 5, at 4 p.m. in Woolsey Hall. The event is free and open to all.

Read more about ISM’s Interdisciplinary Program in Music and the Black Church directed by Professor Braxton Shelley.