When the name Richard Smallwood is mentioned, some of his most famous songs come to mind. Compositions such as “I Shall Wear A Crown,” “Center of My Joy,” “Holy, Holy” and “I Love the Lord” elicits tears and shouts whenever they are heard.
The top names in the music industry have recorded his works ranging from Yolanda Adams to Karen Clark Sheard to Whitney Houston to Aretha Franklin. Other artists singing his songs include Chaka Khan, Ledisi, Reuben Stoddard and the father of contemporary gospel, Edwin Hawkins.
While everyone agrees that Smallwood is incredibly talented, few know about the road he traveled to reach the top. That backstory is told in his book, “Total Praise – The Autobiography of Richard Smallwood.”
In “Total Praise,” the legendary songwriter and performer shares his childhood, his faith and career challenges and successes. Most revealing is his struggle with chronic depression and how he learned to deal with the mental illness. In fact, addressing the issue of mental health was one of the reasons that Smallwood penned the memoir.
“[This book] is an invitation for people who read it and have mental health problems to get help. Don’t be ashamed of it. Let’s kill the stigma about it. Get help for ourselves, our relatives as well as our children – whoever needs it. I just think it’s something that shouldn’t go untreated,” said the award-winning composer and musician.
“In the African American community, mental health has a huge stigma. When I was a little boy, if one of my relatives had some kind of mental health problem, they would hide them in the attic or somewhere,” he recalled with a laugh.
“No one knew about getting help. They would look at the church community – especially the Black church community – and they’d just say, ‘Pray about it.’ They don’t encourage you to get help like they do if you had a physical problem. There is help. There are professionals to help us with our mental health issues. For me, therapy is the best thing that ever happened to me because in so many ways, it explained who I was and why I was [the way that I was].”
Another factor that assisted Smallwood was his faith. Raised in a religious family, he developed a relationship with Christ at a young age. That connection not only helped him overcome many hurdles he faced, but also ignited his creativity despite the anxiety he began having as a youngster, which led to his depression that wasn’t diagnosed until he was in his 30s.
“My faith really helped me. Some of the songs that I wrote 10-or-15-years ago, before I was diagnosed, came out of a depressed state,” he said. “I think for me, a lot of stuff I went through in terms of my mental illness helped fuel my creativity. That’s where I wrote from – the pain, the struggle, how I was feeling. Not every song was like that, but certainly some of them were written from those kinds of places that I was in at the time.”
Fortunately, the Spirit of the Lord aided Smallwood in recognizing that he needed the assistance of trained professionals to handle his increasing depression. His psychiatrist developed a regimen of therapy and medication that Smallwood was able to follow even as he maintained a busy schedule of writing, recording and touring.
Realizing others would benefit by hearing his account, Smallwood decided to highlight in his journey involving his mental health in “Total Praise.” He also began presenting workshops covering various aspects of mental illness.
“My thing was maybe if I tell the story, it will help people – my story, my struggle with mental health. It was a combination of I wanted to do the book and hopefully it would be more than just a good read. Hopefully, it would help a person who was going through [something] and encourage them to get help,” Smallwood said.
As for the future, Smallwood is looking forward performing in person along with writing and recording as the country opens up. But whatever he does, he’ll be guided by his favorite scripture, Romans 8:28 – “For we know that all things work together for the good of them that love God and who are the called according to His purpose.”
“In other words, everything we go through is working for our good. Even dealing with depression has worked together for my good in that I can help other people going through [it],” he said.
“So that’s the scripture I hold close to my life because I’ve gone through a lot in my life – a lot of good, a lot of bad, a lot of scary – but it all has worked together for my good.”
“Total Praise – The Autobiography of Richard Smallwood” is available at Amazon.com and barnesandnobles.com. Connect with Richard Smallwood on Facebook at richwoodmuzik, Twitter @richwoodmuzik and Instagram @smallrich.