Young, dumb, and let loose in a new big city, there are so many ways to show just how green you are. I'll tell you my dumb stories if you tell me yours.
Richard, is that You?
How about that time that, in my search for a church home in Washington, DC, when I visited Georgetown Baptist Church for a Sunday afternoon worship service. There was a guest minister and a guest choir that provided the message and music that summer afternoon.
Feeling like a lifetime ago, I can't remember what the sermon was about, but it was delivered with the kind of fiery force that I had never experienced. The congregation lost itself in that swirling sensation that can take over when the Holy Spirit gets in the room and moves from one soul to the next. "Hallelujah! Thank you Lord!", could be heard all over the sanctuary.
The music that afternoon felt so familiar, enshrining our ears with the lyrical assurance that whatever befalls us, Don't Give Up, we can Call the Lord. I had dabbled in singing gospel music at the church, where I grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, Antioch Baptist Church. Back then, I'd tag along with my older sister Adriane and cousin Karen to a regular weeknight choir rehearsal. We'd listen to recordings of James Cleveland, the Hawkins Family, and Andrae' Crouch and then we'd be taught to sing what we'd hear, broken into mostly three part harmonies. At that time singing gospel at Antioch was groundbreaking. When my older sister went away to College, at Howard University, and came back home for the summer, after her first year, part of a trio singing group that belted out gospel music, I couldn't believe my ears. Who was she? When she sang, the hairs on my arms and on my head vibrated and tingled, it moved me so much.
And when I went away to college and joined the gospel choir there, the founders and musicians of that choir, Edward Ridley and Tyrone Williams, both from DC, introduced me and many others to the music of the Richard Smallwood Singers. Smallwood immediately became a favorite. So when I heard this choir going for it, singing Smallwood songs, that Sunday afternoon in Georgetown, I was so moved that I stayed after the service was over and got in line to thank the incredible piano player and the ensemble that he led.
"You sound just like Richard Smallwood!" Thank goodness that man didn't churlishly cut his eyes, like I later learned he could do, in jest. He just gracefully smiled, shook my hand, and said something like, "oh really", just smiling. It all clicked in too late. That was Richard Smallwood. He was from Washington, DC and I was now living in Washington, DC, um...(palm to forehead). It was like living on Capitol Hill and seeing members of Congress out walking their dogs or shopping at Trader Joe's on a Sunday afternoon or walking the streets of New York and seeing an actor from television of the theatre out having coffee reading the Times or walking with their children. It happens.
So the way this story ends - The sermon that afternoon was delivered by Rev. H. Beecher Hicks, the infamous pastor of the historic Metropolitan Baptist Church, which used to be found at 12th and R. Streets, NW, in Washington, DC, and yes, that was the Richard Smallwood, who was one of the Ministers of Music at Metropolitan. The choir was the Young Adult Fellowship Ensemble (YAFE). I would later join Metropolitan and make it my church home and I eventually auditioned for YAFE, standing in front of Richard Smallwood himself. Thank God he didn't remember the doofus that he met that one Sunday afternoon in Georgetown. After being told to be calm and to turn my back to him and just sing, I was made an Alto. What a wonderful experience, my time in that choir was, singing for services, special events, at the historic Lincoln Theater on U Street, and other churches in the region. I couldn't have asked for a better church home or a better vehicle to serve and worship the Lord.