LifestyleHoward University pays tribute to gospel legends Clark and Smallwood

Howard University pays tribute to gospel legends Clark and Smallwood

In a celebratory event featuring extraordinary music, Howard University celebrated two of its alumni, gospel legends Elbernita “Twinkie” Clark and Richard Smallwood, on April 24.

Howard’s Cramton Auditorium was filled with the soulful sounds of praise and worship during the commemoration, co-produced by the University’s School of Divinity and the Chadwick A. Boseman College of Fine Arts.

Dr. Kenyatta R. Gilbert, dean of the School of Divinity and Phylicia Rashad, dean of the School of Fine Arts, served as the co-hosts for the evening of tributes.

**FILE** Howard University celebrated alumnus Richard Smallwood during a tribute concert on April 24 at Cramton University. (Hamil R. Harris/The Washington Informer)
“Bisons have come home. Bisons have returned,” said Rashad, a fellow alumna. “Howard University is the home of excellence. Tonight, we honor two of gospel music’s greatest.”

Rashad recalled listening to the Howard University Gospel Choir for the first time in Cramton Auditorium during her junior year at the university. At the time, Smallwood, a co-founder of the choir, was directing. 

A widely celebrated vocalist, composer and arranger of choral music, Smallwood’s song “Total Praise” has become an anthem sung regularly at places of worship. 

Clark and her four sisters, Dorinda Clark-Cole, Jacky Clark-Chisholm, Karen Clark-Sheard, and Denise “Niecy” Clark-Bradford, formed the Clark Sisters in 1973, and are credited with being the biggest-selling female gospel group. In 2024, the group received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.

Twinkie Clark is a vocalist, pianist and master of the Hammond B3 organ. She has composed over 350 songs, primarily performed with her multi-award-winning family. 

Howard University celebrated alumna Elbernita “Twinkie” Clark of the renowned Clark Sisters during a tribute concert on April 24 at Cramton University.
“Tonight we listen to music they created and that they have offered to the world,” said Rashad about Smallwood and Clark. “Howard is the gift that keeps on giving.” 

Music Director for the evening was Damien Sneed, another Howard University alumnus and currently associate professor in the Howard Department of Music, who helped deliver a well-paced evening that included hits from the very beginning. 

The evening opened with Smallwood’s “Total Praise” followed by Clark’s “You Brought the Sunshine.” 

During the tribute, their songs were performed by the Howard University Gospel Choir, which included several alumni choir members such as gospel singer Y’Anna Crawley, a Washingtonian who won the second season of BET’s “Sunday Best.” 

In addition, The Levites, a female vocal gospel quartet, seved as soloists and sang background for other performers.

Sneed engaged artists who performed blended arrangements of classical tunes combined with gospel music interpretations of the music for the evening. One of those artists was Cyrus Chestnut, pianist and Howard University master instructor in jazz piano and improvisation. He performed an instrumental medley of “Jesus is the Center of my Joy” by Smallwood and Bill and Gloria Gaither, followed Chestnut’s arrangement of “It is Well” by Horatio Spafford.

Lyric soprano Jacqueline Echols McCarley sang operatic interpretations of Smallwood’s “Come Before His Presence” and Clark’s “Praying Spirits.” She ended her segment with “Great is Thy Faithfulness,” which had even the other singers clinging to every note she sang.

Presenting Howard University Lifetime Achievement Awards to Smallwood and Clark was University Provost Anthony Wutoh. Words of praise and bouquets of flowers led to a finale featuring Clark’s niece Kierra Sheard Kelly singing her aunt’s composition “Praise the Lord.” That’s when Clark could no longer stay seated and had someone walk her to the Hammond B3 organ. In an exciting moment that wowed the audience, she took over as the other musicians had their eyes on Clark so they could keep up. 

Following the finale, Gilbert announced further collaboration between Howard University’s School of Divinity, the College of Fine Arts, and the Department of Africana Studies with the development of a course in “Sacred Music from the Diaspora.”

What we will also do is have many musicians here tonight serve as instructors,” Gilbert declared. “Pray for that and look forward to it.”

Source: Washington Informer

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