“In the civil rights movement, in jails, in rallies, the sound was a way of announcing a community…and anybody who walked toward you, including the police, would be walking into your sound, and they would get to you long before they would get to your body.”
Today, part one of a two part special with the legendary civil rights singers Sweet Honey in the Rock.
This year they are celebrating their 30th year together. It was 1973 when Bernice Johnson Reagon brought together a group of female singers to form an a cappella group.
At the time Reagon was the music director of the old D.C. Black Repertory Theater Company. The first song they practiced was called “Sweet Honey in the Rock.” The tune referenced religious parable that spoke of a land so rich that when rocks were cracked open, honey flowed from them.
They decided to take that name as their own.
Reagon had come with a deep musical past. She was an original member of the SNCC Freedom Singers and also organized the Atlanta-based Harambee Singers, an ensemble of female vocalists who performed as part of the civil rights struggles of the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Since 1973 Sweet Honey in the Rock has reinvented a cappella music and introduced a generation to the roots of African-American music: gospel, spirituals and hymns as well as the blues and jazz.
The group has released 18 albums and has toured the world. They won a Grammy Award in 1989 for work on the recording, “Vision Shared: A Tribute to Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly”. They have even published a book examining a history of the group and the times. Alice Walker wrote the introduction. Over the years the group’s membership has included 22 women.
The current ensemble includes Bernice Johnson Reagon, Ysaye Maria Barnwell, Nitanju Bolade Casel, Aisha Kahlil, Carol Maillard and sign language interpretator Shirley Childress Saxton.
- Sweet Honey in the Rock Special — Part I