Total Praise

  1. Total Praise Richard Smallwood and Vision 4:59


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Richard Smallwood‘s “Total Praise”…it has become one of the best know contemporary gospel songs and for good reason. It’s amazing.

I first heard it by accident listening to a gospel music radio show late one Sunday night. Sitting there in the dark this song came on and by the end I was a weeping mess. (see comments below…I’m not alone!)

Gospel writer Bob Marovich wrote “Like James Cleveland, Smallwood is an absolute genius at composing gospel canon. It is as if he is scoring the soundtrack for Heaven itself. On ‘Total Praise,’ Smallwood combines his classical sensitivity with gospel exuberance, creating an exquisite aural feast. His setting of the Amen at the conclusion of ‘Total Praise’ may well be the most beautiful moment in gospel music today. It’s a challenge to listen to this recording and not well up in tears of joy.”

Here is Smallwood describing what made him write Total Praise.

“Its sort of ironic how it came to me. It came to me in a very difficult time in my life. My mother was very ill, my god brother was terminally ill and I was playing caregiver, running from the hospital to my home taking care of everybody. It really felt like I just couldn’t do it. A lot of people don’t understand that care giving is just as difficult as the person who is ill because if you don’t take care of yourself you can end up in the hospital from stress and stuff.”

“I felt like, I know God has not forsaken me but sometimes you get to a point in your life where you know He’s there but you cant feel Him. I knew He was there, I knew he had my back but I couldn’t feel anything and I said God I cant. I feel helpless with my loved ones, I can’t make them get any better, and I don’t know if I’m doing enough.”

“I was sitting at the piano and Total Praise came just like that. I didn’t have to work on any melodies or inversions, it just all came as if it were already written.” (Carol King said the exact same thing when she spoke about writing “You’ve Got a Friend”…RLS)

“I knew once I wrote it that God had given me something really special. I had no idea all that it would do but I knew it was very special. He really gave it to me in that particular instance because he was saying to me, “Regardless of what you see around you or regardless of what you feel I’m still owed your praise because I’m going to get you through it, you may not see it or you may not feel it but I got your back so give me praise now, in your valley time; I call it valley praise. When you really think about it, God already mapped it out; He’s got it even if you don’t see it. That’s what he was saying to me “give me your praise in what ever season you find yourself in.” He gave it to me and then He took it elsewhere and did what He did with it.”

Here are another couple of snippets about the song:

“This uplifting anthem is stunning in its emotional power, ending with a reflective setting of the Lutkin Seven-fold Amen. Powerful from beginning to end, this anthem of praise is just what you need to fill the sanctuary with the Spirit!”

“The conclusion of this popular gospel hymn evokes the tenderness of Brahms, the boldness of Wagner, and has brought the most macho of men to briny tears.”

Lastly, here is a video of the master…the composer of the song, Richard Smallwood (with his vocal group Vision), performing the song in it’s entirety, including a magnificent orchestral intro. 

I Want To Be Ready

  1. I Want To Be Ready Rev. James Cleveland & The Southern California Community Choir 2:20


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In 1999, this was one of the very first songs Geoffrey Dana Hick taught his travel choir. The choir’s amazing tour of Umbria in Italy was the impetus for the founding of “Joyful Voices of Inspiration”. Although I didn’t know it at the time, many of the songs the early choir learned were James Cleveland songs because a James Cleveland album was one of the few gospel albums Geoff had in his early days of playing gospel music.

Geoff learned to play gospel at age 18 at 12th Baptist in Roxbury while attending the New England Conservatory as a classical pianist.  Prior to that he had lived in various places abroad since his father was in the foreign service/diplomat. 

Story goes that when he arrived in the U.S from Germany to attend The Conservatory, he was invited to dinner in at the home of Ralph Abernathy (pastor of West Hunter Street Baptist Church and noted civil rights leader working closely with Dr. Martin Luther King) and his wife in Atlanta Georgia.  After dinner Mrs. Abernathy asked Geoff if he would play the piano for them and he played several classical pieces that they enjoyed. Impressed with his talent, Mrs. Abernathy asked Geoff to play them some gospel music. He told them he didn’t KNOW any gospel music, let alone be able to play it.  Astonished, amazed, and a bit shocked, Mrs. Abernathy told Geoff to go to Union United Methodist Church, “the biggest black in Boston”, as soon as he got settled in Boston. 

One Sunday Geoff decided to follow Mrs. Abernathy’s advice and got in the cab and asked the cabby to take him to “the biggest black church in Boston” since he couldn’t remember the name Mrs. Abernathy had given him.  The cabby took him to 12th Baptist in Roxbury and that was that. Over the ensuing years Geoff learned to play gospel at the hands of the resident masters at 12th Baptist and eventually ended up playing at Sunday services!  Today, Dr. Geoffrey Dana Hicks is not only a talented composer and pianist, he also serves as Minister of Music at Tremont Temple in downtown Boston.

I’ll post a recording of Geoff playing gospel in the near future.

Essential Mahalia Jackson

  1. Mahalia - Five Selections Mahalia Jackson 18:54


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Mahalia Jackson (October 26, 1911 – January 27, 1972). Possessing a powerful contralto voice, she was referred to as “The Queen of Gospel”. She became one of the most influential gospel singers in the world and was heralded internationally as a singer and civil rights activist. She was described by entertainer Harry Belafonte as “the single most powerful black woman in the United States”. She recorded about 30 albums (mostly for Columbia Records) during her career, and her 45 rpm records included a dozen “golds”—million-sellers.

“I sing God’s music because it makes me feel free”, Jackson once said about her choice of gospel, adding, “It gives me hope. With the blues, when you finish, you still have the blues.”   [Source: ]

This is a “mix “of five songs from the two CD set “Essential Mahalia”; all recordings are live performances.

0:00 How I Got Over
6:03 Walk All Over God’s Heaven
8:38 My God is Real
12:14 I Can Put My Trust in Jesus
15:30 Elisha Rock