October 17, 2002
Director of Media Relations
AMHERST, Mass.-Sweet Honey in the Rock, the Grammy Award-winning African-American female a cappella ensemble, will perform at Amherst College on Sunday, Nov. 3 at 7:30 p.m. in Buckley Recital Hall at Amherst College. Admission to the concert, presented as part of the college's annual Martin Luther King, Jr. celebration, is free but seating is limited. Tickets will be distributed at the door.
A Sweet Honey in the Rock concert is an a cappella experience unlike most others: beyond the group's interwoven parts and complicated harmonies is an intention to inform and illuminate that never becomes preachy or didactic. As the Washington Post wrote of the group, "It's one thing to proselytize and lecture about civil rights, domestic violence, the upcoming elections and the plight of the rain forests. It's quite another to have these subjects illuminated and deconstructed by voices gaining strength like some maniacal engine, with mesmerizing repetitions, modulations smooth as silk and accompaniments resembling the toot of a calliope or a forest of rustling trees."
Bernice Reagon Johnson founded the group in 1973. Having been active in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Reagon Johnson was one of the Freedom Singers, the historic African-American vocal group formed during the height of the '60s civil rights struggles. The first song she taught her new group was "Sweet Honey In The Rock," based on a parable that told of a land so rich that when rocks were cracked open, honey flowed from them; the group says this is emblematic of "Sweet Honey's commitment to the black musical forms of its heritage, ancestral and modern, as unifying, communal force against oppression of all types - racial oppression being just the starting point." Reagon Johnson has been singing with the group for almost thirty years.
Sweet Honey in the Rock is a six-person group, with five singers and a sign-language translator. Dr. Ysaye Maria Barnwell is a prolific composer in addition to being a member of the group; she spends much of her time off-stage working as a master teacher and choral clinician in cultural performance theory. Nitanju Bolade Casel, who spent four years studying and performing in Dakar, Senegal, brings to Sweet Honey her unique performance experience in African vocal styles, jazz, improvisational rhythms and hip hop. Aisha Kahlil specializes in the integration of traditional and contemporary forms of music, dance and theater; she has performed as a singer and dancer with numerous groups, including the Raymond Sawyer Dance Theater, Sounds of Awareness, Sundance and the African Heritage Dancers and Drummers. Kahlil was named Best Soloist by the Contemporary A Cappella Society of America (CASA) for her performances of "See See Rider" and "Fulani Chant." Carol Lynn Maillard, one of the original members of Sweet Honey, is an accomplished film, television and stage actress. She has performed with the D.C. Black Repertory Company (where she met Reagon Johnson) and the Negro Ensemble Company, as well as appearing at the New York Shakespeare Festival and on Broadway. Shirley Childress Saxton has spent over 25 years providing Sign interpreting services in a wide range of life situations including education, employment, legal, medical, performing arts and music.
Sweet Honey in the Rock has a Website at http://www.sweethoney.com.