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“I Love the Lord”

TITLE: "I Love the Lord"
AUTHOR: Isaac Watts
COMPOSER: African American Spiritual; arr. Richard Smallwood
SOURCE: Worship & Song, no. 3142
SCRIPTURE: Psalm 116:1-2
TOPICS: breath/breathe; cry out; groan; haste/hasten; healing; heart; love for God; prayer; throne; trouble; worship


Composer, arranger, pianist, and music director Richard Smallwood was born November 30, 1948, in Atlanta, Georgia. He earned degrees in vocal performance and piano performance from Howard University, with additional graduate work in ethnomusicology. He earned a Masters of Divinity from Howard University in 2004.

His father was the pastor of the historic Union Temple in Washington, D.C., and his mother strongly encouraged his musical talent. After college, he taught music at the University of Maryland; then in 1977, he formed the Richard Smallwood Singers. Their first album in 1982, The Richard Smallwood Singers, spent 87 weeks at no. 1 on Billboard's Gospel chart. Smallwood has remained popular throughout his career, writing "Center of My Joy" with Bill and Gloria Gaither in 1984, and later such hits as "Total Praise," "Angels," "Healing," "Anthem of Praise," and "Bless the Lord." To date, Smallwood has recorded fifteen albums, and he produced the Grammy- and Dove-Award-winning Quincy Jones recording of Handel's Messiah: A Soulful Celebration. He was elected to the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 2006.

"I Love the Lord" was sung by Whitney Houston as the closing song of the 1996 movie, The Preacher's Wife. The original soundtrack album is the best-selling gospel album of all time and remained number one on Billboard's Top Gospel Albums Chart for twenty-six weeks.


The words of "I Love the Lord" closely follow those of Isaac Watts' rendering of Psalm 116:

I love the Lord; he heard my cries,
And pitied every groan;
Long as I live, when troubles rise,
I'll hasten to his throne.

Watts's Psalm is titled "Recovery from Sickness," and proclaims that when we cry out to the Lord, God hears our cries and groans, and that throughout our lives when we are troubled, our response is to pray. As long as we pray, God will take our grief and despair.


Smallwood's setting is largely centered in the tonic harmony with frequent chord changes filling out the progressions and rhythms of the text. The first main phrase begins in C ("I love the Lord") and ends in C ("groan"), but in between makes use of every diatonic chord in the key plus the secondary dominant on D. The harmony is rich, and the progression is spun out. The second phrase also begins ("Long as I live") and ends ("throne") in C, and likewise is harmonically rich. It opens with a short four-note sequence that is repeated, eventually winding its way harmonically through the Circle of Fifths to the final tonic. There are important primary and secondary cadence points on the significant words: "Lord," "cry," "groan," "live" and "rise." Note the marvelous contrary effect in the last phrase, "I'll hasten to his throne," in which Smallwood actually delays rather than hastens the final cadence by using an extended harmonic and melodic elaboration on the usually insignificant word, "to."


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