Henry Panion III to lead National Symphony Orchestra at The Kennedy Center in tribute to Richard Smallwood

Panion, having worked with Richard Smallwood as conductor and arranger, was tapped by The Kennedy Center for his unique experience at merging gospel and classical music, particularly with the symphony orchestra.

Henry Panion IIINSO Richard Smallwood FB Post 1, Ph.D., will lead the National Symphony Orchestra at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., in an all-star tribute to gospel legend Richard Smallwood on June 18-19.

A composer, conductor and producer, Panion is a University of Alabama at Birmingham University Professor of Music and director of Music Technology in the College of Arts and Sciences' Department of Music.

A three-time Grammy Award winner, he earned two Emmys in 2021 for the PBS documentary “Dreams of Hope,” which won an unprecedented 13 Telly Awards.

Smallwood’s songs are among the most-performed gospel music by choirs across the globe. This year marks Smallwood’s 75th birthday, and Panion, having worked with Smallwood as conductor and arranger, was tapped by The Kennedy Center for his unique experience at merging gospel and classical music, particularly with the symphony orchestra.

For this special performance, Panion, a 2023 Alabama Music Hall of Fame inductee, will produce, arrange and conduct the National Symphony Orchestra. Also featured will be gospel stars Marvin Winans of the Winans family; Dorinda Clark-Cole of the Clark Sisters; Maurette Brown Clark, whose career started as a member of the Richard Smallwood Singers; Vision, the choir heard on many of Smallwood’s most famous recordings; and the Bowie State University Choir and Howard University Gospel Choir, of which Smallwood is an alumnus. 

A Gospel Symphony Celebration: Tribute to Richard Smallwood at 75” will be Panion’s third time conducting the National Symphony Orchestra; the first was for a July Fourth concert with Stevie Wonder on the grounds of the United States Capitol for a crowd of 500,000 and tens of millions on television, and the second for two sold-out shows with R&B singer India Arie. 

“I am honored to be invited back to lead this world-renowned orchestra, and to know that I am forever listed among some of the most important conductors in history to have this privilege, such as Mstislav Rostropovich, Pierre Boulez, Herbert von Karajan, Zubin Mehta, Leonard Slatkin, Seiji Ozawa, Sir Simon Rattle and Leonard Bernstein,” Panion said. “To see their photos displayed on the walls in the conductor’s dressing room is a pinch-me moment.”

Since its founding in 1931, the NSO has been committed to performances that enrich the lives of its audience and community members. In 1986, the National Symphony became an artistic affiliate of The Kennedy Center, where it has performed since the Center opened in 1971. The 96-member NSO participates in events of national and international importance, including the annual nationally televised concerts on the lawn of the United States Capitol, The Kennedy Center Honors and the orchestra's representation of the United States on their international tours, Panion says. 

For the 2023-2024 season, Panion appears with The Greensboro Symphony, Syracuse Orchestra, Buffalo Philharmonic, Charlotte Symphony, Alabama Symphony, Richmond Symphony, Virginia Symphony, Canton Symphony, Baltimore Symphony and the National Symphony.

During the upcoming 2024-2025 season, Panion will lead the Alabama Symphony in a reprisal of the highly successful “A Gospel Symphony Celebration” featuring Dorinda Clark-Cole, set for Sunday, Nov. 17, at UAB’s Alys Stephens Performing Arts Center. Panion will present a special valentine concert on Saturday, Feb. 8, 2025, featuring “American Idol” winner Ruben Studdard in “Ruben Sings Luther.”