Richmond Symphony celebrates MLK weekend with three concerts

Debora Timms | 1/11/2024, 6 p.m.
Dr. Henry Panion III, a Grammy-award winning arranger, composer, conductor, educator and producer, has worked with artists across the musical …
Mr. Smallwood Photo courtesy of Richmond Symphony

Dr. Henry Panion III, a Grammy-award winning arranger, composer, conductor, educator and producer, has worked with artists across the musical spectrum.

Stevie Wonder, The Winans, India Arie and Carrie Underwood are among the hit list of singers, producers and songwriters that stand out on his résumé, along with his work with renowned gospel songwriter and artist Richard Smallwood.

Dr. Panion also has worked with more than 50 different symphony orchestras all around the globe, including the Royal Philharmonic, the Bolshoi Theater Orchestra, the Birmingham (England) Symphony, the Orchestra of Paris, the Melbourne (Australia) Symphony, the Rio de Janeiro Philharmonic, the Ra’anana Philharmonic, the Nice Symphony, the Gothenburg Symphony, and the Boston Pops Orchestra.

Dr. Panion

Dr. Panion

About Dr. Henry Panion

Henry Panion III, Ph.D, holds degrees in music education and music theory from Alabama A&M University and the Ohio State University, respectively, and serves as director of the Music Technology Program at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Dr. Panion’s own works are programmed throughout the United States by many of this country’s major orchestras, including the New York Philharmonic, Atlanta Symphony, Cincinnati Pops, Cleveland Symphony, Philadelphia Orchestra, Detroit Symphony, Baltimore Symphony, San Francisco Symphony, Nashville Symphony, Houston Symphony, and the National Symphony.

During the 50th anniversary of Selma’s Bloody Sunday in 2015, Dr. Panion served as Artistic Producer & Conductor for the BET/Centric TV Special. In 2019 he concluded the city of Birmingham’s three-year commemoration of the state of Alabama’s Bicentennial, in which he served as chair.

The 2020 PBS concert-documentary Dreams of Hope: Birmingham’s Historic 16th Street Baptist Church Welcomes Violins of Hope was produced by Dr. Panion and has been broadcast repeatedly over 1000 times on PBS stations across America; received an unprecedented 13 Telly Awards; and has won in prestigious film festivals domestically and abroad in cities such as New York, Los Angeles, Miami, London, Paris, Amsterdam, Jerusalem, and Sydney. In 2021 Dreams of Hope picked up 2 Emmys for music composition and audio post production.

As a producer, composer, arranger, and orchestrator, Dr. Panion’s work has produced three Grammy Awards, two Dove Awards, and a host of other national music awards and nominations. From 1994 to 2000, Dr. Panion served as chair of the Department of Music at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. He also serves as president and CEO of Audiostate 55 Recording Studios & Entertainment Company.

Other honors include a 1995 Distinguished Alumni Award from Alabama A&M University and a 1996 Distinguished Alumni of the Year Award from the Ohio State University. He is the 1996 recipient

of the Caroline P. and Charles W. Ireland Award for Scholarly Distinction and the 2009 recipient of the Congressional Black Caucus’ Civic and Cultural Advancement Award. Dr. Panion was inducted into the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame in 1995, the Alabama A&M University Hall of Fame in 2000, the Alabama Arts Hall of Fame in 2019, and the Alabama Music Hall of Fame in 2023.

Dr. Panion serves on the Berklee College of Music’s BCMN Advisory Board and was recently reappointed by the governor of Alabama to the Alabama State Council on the Arts where he serves as Board Chairman. Current posts also include appointments to the boards of the Southeast Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences (The Emmy’s) and the Robert Moog Foundation. Most recently, Dr. Panion served as artistic director, composer, and orchestra conductor of The World Games 2022. Commissioned to compose its new theme music and all original music, Dr. Panion designed and produced the creative presentation for the Emmy-nominated opening and closing ceremonies, with a viewership of over 250 million people in 100 plus countries.

Richmond Symphony audiences will hear the combined work of Dr. Panion and Mr. Smallwood this weekend during the Richmond Symphony’s three performances at the Dominion Energy Center’s Carpenter Theatre.

On Friday, Jan. 12, and Saturday, Jan. 13, the Richmond Symphony will present “A Tribute to Richard Smallwood” honoring the 75-year- old’s Grammy-award winning career that has spanned more than four decades. Along with the orchestra, the evenings also will feature a collection of some of the areas most outstanding gospel singers and solo performances by artists such as the Richmond region’s Desirèe Roots, herself a Grammy-nominated vocalist.

In a recent telephone interview, Dr. Panion shared his excitement at bringing what has come to be a signature for him, the combining of different genres such as gospel music together with orchestral performances, to Richmond audiences.

“Gospel music particularly is at the basic foundation of so much music that is played today throughout the world. It lends itself so well to orchestral presentations,” he explained. “Great rhythms, great melodies, lush harmonies and all the colors and textures that only an orchestra can present — especially in a live situation.

“I’m happy to be in the position where I can present gospel as a true, important art form, that really is an American art form,” Dr. Panion added, noting that these performances are especially meaningful for him as he arranged many of the works that will appear on the program for Mr. Smallwood himself.

Mr. Smallwood’s works have been recorded by artists such as Aretha Franklin and Destiny’s Child. Arguably some of his most popular songs have been his 1996 composition “Total Praise,” and “I Love the Lord,” which was performed by Whitney Houston in the film, “The Preacher’s Wife.” Both selections will be featured in the weekend’s performances.

Dr. Panion notes that one of the great things about melding together the gospel choirs and the orchestra is the opportunity to see these two communities come together and witness perhaps the first exposure of those who follow gospel to orchestral music or vice versa.

“I know what [the audience] is going to experience so I really get to enjoy the fact of that first experience for some of them,” he said. “Especially when it is presented with great intentionality, they’re blown away.”

He says art, and especially music, has a way of being able to reflect. This is especially evident in the program he will present Sunday, Jan. 14, “Celebrate MLK.”

One of the works he will present is Margaret Boyd’s “Montgomery Variations” which was based on her trip to Birmingham, Ala., right after the 1963 bombing that killed four Black girls at 16th Street Baptist Church.

“You can hear everything she’s saying in the music without using a single word,” Dr. Panion said. “You can hear joy, you can hear prayer, you can hear hope and sorrow come across.”

The Sunday afternoon event also will highlight music from other classical composers of African descent.

“All too often great music written throughout history by composers of African descent is seldom programmed,” he said, adding that he likes to take every opportunity presented to share the music he has discovered.

Additionally, the concert also will showcase works composed by Dr. Panion, including a reprisal of “Dreams of Hope for Solo Violin and Orchestra” by violinist Caitlin Edwards, which she has performed both live and for a 2020 PBS concert-documentary, as well as his “Ride on King Jesus,” which was originally recorded as part of 2006’s “Gospel Goes Classical” which charted as high as No.2 on both Billboard’s Crossover Classical and Gospel charts.

Dr. Panion said the performances will both celebrate the rich tradition of classical music and commemorate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“People can expect to be inspired by music that perhaps they have never heard and will leave refreshed and rejuvenated,” he ended. “It will of course commemorate the past, but really it is a celebration of our present and our future.”

Links for information and tickets to the weekend’s performances:

Jan. 12 concert:


Jan. 13 concert:


Jan. 14 concert: