Jarell Smalls

Marissa Dick | March 22nd, 2021

     Music is an important part of our daily lives.  Many people listen to music from the time they wake up in the morning to the time they go to bed.  Through music, artists write stories that cause you to become emotional because the listener can identify with the words. It would be fair to say that music is a cultural way of relating to people and its variety of sounds are endless; however, no genera of music has the rich history of Gospel music. Gospel music has been relevant in American society for over a century and its impact is still prevalent till this very day. 


     An English playwriter, William Congreve, once wrote, “Music has charms to soothe the savage breast, to soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak.”  This famous quote has been put to the test in the medical community with both humans and animals alike to witness the calming affect that music has on the brain and the body.  Research has shown that music has both calming and healing properties.  These healing properties can be seen in Gospel music as people have been known to fall down on their knees in worship to release their heartache, pain, fear, and even their joy. Gospel music could possibly have this type of affect because it was born from “Negro Spirituals” which were hymns that were sung by slaves in the South.  Such songs as “Follow the Drinkin’ Gourd”, “Wade in the Water”, and “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” were bellowed aloud while working in the fields to send coded messages to runaway slaves on how to get to freedom – – the Underground Railroad. Gospel music is so inspirational that it can invite The Holy Trinity to “come on in the room” and He will indeed enter.  Meet Jarell J. Smalls, Gospel singer extraordinaire, minister, COVID-19 survivor, author, and one who pays homage to his ancestorial Gospel roots.  Minister Jarell is a native of (downtown) Charleston, South Carolina and was raised by his grandmother and mother in The New MaryAnn Missionary Baptist Church located in unincorporated towns of Cainhoy, Wando, and Huger South Carolina also known as DC or “Deep Country”. 


     It is through this ministry where he initially gained an appreciation for “Good Old Fashion Church”.  He shares, “I came from a single parent home and I was raised by my grandmother and mother who are both great women of faith.  They raised me and my siblings through difficult circumstances.  I mean we lived in the projects and we survived off of government assistance. Even though I didn’t grow up with a father in the home I still had a great covering because my grandmother really stressed the importance of being in church and prayer.  So, I grew up in a little church called The New MaryAnn Missionary Baptist Church and that’s where my gifts were founded.  I remember always getting in trouble at church because I would tear up fans so I could use the wooden handles for drumsticks.  It was my grandmother who would tell everybody to leave me alone because I was going to be somebody one day and she was right.  And so, the drums became my passion and eventually I got my first drum set and I went down in the church history as the first recorded drummer ever in the church.”  Being a survivor isn’t new to Jarell.  In 1989 when hurricane Hugo made his presence known Jarell can remember “wading through the water” with his family to reach the Gilyard Auditorium which had been converted to an evacuation shelter. Like most who survived Hurricane Hugo, the Smalls family lost everything but St. James 5:16 tells us, “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much” and it was being immersed in prayer that he and his family came through by always keeping God first in their lives in good and bad times.


     In the mid-1930’s Black churches began using the Hammond organ, a cheaper version of the pipe organ, during its services.  This newly invent organ afforded musicians the opportunity to control melodies while simultaneously being able to play the bass using their feet.  Soon the Hammond organ became an essential companion to the rhythmical preacher and forged the sound of praise break music.  Jarell recalls, “I worked at a music store in Charleston called Fox Music House. I had a wonderful mentor there by the name of Mr. Charles Fox.  Mr. Fox trained and taught me how to sell drums, keyboards, and he also taught me how to demo the Hammond organ.  One of my strategies was to demo the organ at the church that wanted to buy it.  So, when I arrived at that particular church, I would play that Hammond organ like I was in church and they would fall in love with the organ.  In 2009 I was voted the top Hammond salesman in the USA.”  This is one of Jarell’s first accomplishments, but it was one that could have made or broken his musical career.  He shares, “I was doing really well still playing the drums and the Hammond and then I had an opportunity with the Charleston Symphony Orchestra.  Well, I didn’t have formal training in any of the instruments I played so I couldn’t read music; I played by ear. I was always able to slip through the cracks until one day the gig was up.  The Official Conductor, Mr. Vincent Dan, came in, we went over a song, and I missed one chop on the song.  It was scripted by notes, but I didn’t know that because I couldn’t read music. Of course, he caught it, stopped the rehearsal, and threatened to sue me because he thought I would mess up his show.  But God is good, and he gave me another chance.  I will never forget what he said to me.  Mr. Dan said, “It’s okay to fake your way through, but it’s even better to know your way through”.  That experience and those inspirational words helped shaped who I am as an artist today.”  Constructive feedback when given in the right spirit can be appreciated by anyone.  Thank goodness Jarell Smalls was humble and emotionally mature enough to accept it.


     As Gospel music progressed it did so initially with male dominated quartets singing a cappella. The similarities of how Gospel music has emerged throughout history certainly parallels Jarell’s beginnings.  “My family had a Gospel group called, The Sensational Gospel Singers, but all I did with them was play the drums. I was introduced to Huilo Johnson and we started a group called, The Gospel Inspirations. When we got together, we recorded our first cd entitled, “Get Ready”.  Now that song became very popular, and it afforded us the opportunity to travel all over the country performing it.”  Jarell credits his time with the quarte as one that matured him as an artist. After a prosperous season of performing with the quartet, Minister Jarell, eventually embraced his calling as a solo artist in the Gospel industry. He credits Lee Williams and The Spiritual QC’s for his style of singing. “I grew up listening to his music on the radio. Everybody called me little Lee Williams he was my mentor, and he didn’t even know it. Then one day I was afforded the opportunity to meet Mr. Williams and sing for him and it’s been a blessing ever since. Through that meeting the doors were opened for me to meet other Gospel bedrock groups such as Darrell McFadden, the Canton Spirituals, and Doc and the Hi-Lites.  We all know that favor ain’t fair, but it’s certainly a blessing for the person that the favor is bestowed upon.


Throughout his career Jarell has recorded many notable songs that have gone viral.  Such songs as “We Wish You A Merry Christmas in July” and “Mary Rock The Baby” afforded him the opportunity to travel overseas and throughout Europe singing those coveted titles.  When he returned home those songs were even more popular and still today are the most requested songs.  In 2016, Jarell recorded a song entitled, “Prayer Room” a remix rendition of “Come On In The Room” originally sung by the Georgia Mass Choir.  He put his own spin on the old Gospel song then gave it away for free. How many of us know that when you plant good seed in healthy soil and water it with a truthful heart it will not return to you void.  Jarell also gave that song away and his harvest returned like a boomerang as that song went viral, too.  Throughout his career his music has garnered national acclaims as his music has been considered for both the Grammy and Stellar Awards.  Jarell Smalls and Company has currently released another hit single entitled, “We Need Your Power” which is steadily climbing the Gospel Billboard charts. 


     Jarell’s musical career has also allowed him to sing for many notable people.  He shares, “I’ve sang for events with the NAACP.  I even sang for Senator Burnie Saunders campaign. I’ve played for then vice president, Joe Biden, and I’ve sung for Hillary Clinton.  My music career has allowed me to work with and learn from notable singers like Ty Trippet, Hezekiah Walker, and Anthony Brown. I mean from Pastor Kim Burrell to Leandra Johnson.  All of these Gospel giants support my work.”  So, what makes these Gospel greats so enticed by Jarell’s music?  “I’m told that people enjoy my music because my style of singing separates me from everybody else.  I just call it Gullah Geechee Gospel. I have an accent that causes a lot of people to mistake me for being Caribbean or Jamaican, but I’m neither.  I’m from downtown Charleston so I sing the way I talk. I don’t try to add any bells and whistles or runs. When I sing my intent is for you to keep your mind on Jesus.  That’s probably why I really appeal to the great aunts and uncles, the grandparents, you know that generation because they can relate to the sound and the words.”  Thank goodness for The New MaryAnn Missionary Baptist Church. It was on those hollowed and prayed up grounds where the Spirit moved over his body, went underneath his skin, ebbed through his bones, and rested in the marrow for such a time this.


     Often times when people start out with humble beginnings and they achieve financial success some have a tendency to squander their monies, but that was not going to be Jarell Smalls story.  Instead, he thought about investing his monies, so he opened a restaurant in 2019 called, Mama Pearls Kitchen in Allensville, South Carolina. The restaurant became a success as it served southern cuisine like your grandmother used to make until COVID-19 forced it to close its doors. Jarell shares, “The pandemic didn’t just shut down the restaurant, it shut me down too.  It almost took my life. When I first started not feeling well, I quarantined myself for 11 days, but I wasn’t getting any better.  So, I went to the hospital and I was told that I had pneumonia. I was given antibiotics and a steroid, and they sent me home but that next day I took a turn for the worst. I called my sister because I was having difficulty catching my breath.  She suggested that I go back to the hospital, but I didn’t want to do that because I was there the day before.  Well, she came over, took a look at me and called 911. When the paramedics arrived, they looked at me the same way my sister did, and they rushed me to the hospital. I must have passed out because the next thing I remember is being in a glass room and feeling pain shooting through my leg.  I understand now that the doctors were trying to drill a path for an IV to be inserted through my bones, but because I was fighting, they couldn’t finish the procedure.  I remember seeing the doctor throw up his hands and I heard him say, ‘We’ve done all we can do,’ and then I was left there by myself.  It was like they were waiting for me to die. When I woke up again it was three weeks later, and I was strapped down. I was told by Nurse Charles that I had died three times and had been placed on a ventilator to keep me breathing. Spiritually I must have known something was happening because I kept telling myself that I wasn’t dead I just couldn’t accept that but at the same time I still see things going on, but nobody could hear me. I was in the hospital for almost a month before I could even speak to anyone.  After I was released, I started having panic attacks so I had to go to therapy which was the best thing that could have ever happened.  Through counseling I gained an understanding of what happened to me.  I learned what panic attacks actually are, why I was having them, and I learned how to handle them.  I was also able to gain clarity on other things in my life.”  It suffices to say that freely sowing musical seeds paved the way for Minister Jarell Smalls to find favor with the Roper Charity Foundation because he was blessed to have his $300,000 hospital bill paid in full.  You see, when you give out of the abundance of your heart you shall reap the reward. 


     Jarell Smalls has made significant deposits into the lives of many congregations throughout the land. He is a man full of wisdom, strength, faith, and power.  He desires to continue traveling the world singing and preaching the unadulterated gospel of Jesus Christ. Be on the lookout for his first book entitled, “I HAVE A REASON TO LIVE:  Surviving COVID-19” which is soon to be released.  You may want to purchase an advanced copy because everything he does in the Kingdom has the tendency to go viral.







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