Smith Pollard talks gospel music at Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

Deborah Smith Pollard on Kennedy Center panel

Deborah Smith Pollard was a panelist on the “Master Session” devoted to gospel music at the American Voices Festival held at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. Photo by Jati Lindsay.

Her business card reads “Dr. Deborah Smith Pollard.”

Her students refer to her as “Professor.”

But to her league of radio listeners across southeast Michigan, she’s “Dr. Deb.”

She has taught English at University of Michigan-Dearborn since 1995, but she’s more affectionately known as the host/producer of Rhythm and Praise with Deborah Smith Pollard, a contemporary gospel music program.

“I’ve always wanted to do gospel—not jazz radio or anything else, just gospel, so I guess you could say it worked out for me,” said Smith Pollard, whose voice has echoed over metropolitan Detroit airwaves for 20 years.

Smith Pollard has interviewed hundreds of gospel musicians, but she recently had an opportunity to rub elbows with multiple Grammy Award winners all at the same time. She was invited to serve as a panelist at the American Voices Festival held at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.

“The whole thing was just ‘Wow,’” said Smith Pollard, who was named “Gospel Announcer of the Year” at the 2006 Stellar Music Awards.

Smith Pollard was a panelist on the “Master Session” devoted to gospel music, where she discussed the politics of gospel and black sacred music. She also had a front-row seat to the American Voices concert that included performances from Josh Groban, Kim Burrell, Sara Bareilles, Ben Folds and many others.

“It was really great just to have a conversation at the Kennedy Center about this music that I think is so important, but doesn’t always get the respect that I believe it deserves,” she said.

Smith Pollard is well respected not only among the gospel music community, but also on campus, where she is revered for her knowledge of African American literature and culture.

She authored When the Church Becomes Your Party, a 2009 Michigan Notable Book. The book examines praise and worship in the urban church, the gospel musical stage plays, the changing dress code within the church and gospel music arena, women gospel announcers, as well as Christian rap.

“One of the hallmarks of an engaged university is the degree to which its faculty involves itself in community-based research,” said College of Arts, Sciences, and Letters Dean Martin Hershock. “Few scholars at University of Michigan-Dearborn epitomize this meshing of scholarship and place more than Deborah Smith Pollard. Beyond her award-winning work in this field, Deborah infuses her enthusiasm for gospel culture into everything she does. In so doing, she brings her passion and the importance of her work front and center in the classroom, across campus and throughout the metropolitan Detroit region.”

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