In Celebration of the Human Voice - The Essential Musical Instrument
Founded by Bernice Johnson Reagon in 1973 at the D.C. Black Repertory Theater Company, Sweet Honey In The Rock, internationally renowned a cappella ensemble, has been a vital and innovative presence in the music culture of Washington, D.C., and in communities of conscience around the world.
From Psalm 81:16 comes the promise to a people of being fed by honey out of the rock. Honey - an ancient substance, sweet and nurturing. Rock - an elemental strength, enduring the winds of time. The metaphor of sweet honey in the rock captures completely these African American women whose repertoire is steeped in the sacred music of the Black church, the clarion calls of the civil rights movement, and songs of the struggle for justice everywhere.
Rooted in a deeply held commitment to create music out of the rich textures of African American legacy and traditions, Sweet Honey In The Rock possesses a stunning vocal prowess that captures the complex sounds of Blues, spirituals, traditional gospel hymns, rap, reggae, African chants, Hip Hop, ancient lullabies, and jazz improvisation. Sweet Honey's collective voice, occasionally accompanied by hand percussion instruments, produces a sound filled with soulful harmonies and intricate rhythms.
In the best and in the hardest of times, Sweet Honey In The Rock has come in song to communities across the U.S., and around the world raising her voice in hope, love, justice, peace, and resistance. Sweet Honey invites her audiences to open their minds and hearts and think about who we are and how we treat each other, our fellow creatures who share this planet, and of course, the planet itself.
Sweet Honey's latest release, Experience...101 was a 2008 Grammy Award nominee. After attending the awards ceremony in Los Angeles, and walking the "red carpet", the group summed up the experience in one word: amazing. The excitement continued as Sweet Honey was asked to compose new material in celebration of the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater's 50th anniversary. Together these two artistic treasures of the African American experience are performing this once-in-a-lifetime collaboration throughout the United States.
Sweet Honey In The Rock is Ysaye Maria Barnwell, Nitanju Bolade Casel, Aisha Kahlil, Carol Maillard, Louise Robinson, and Shirley Childress Saxton.
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Review: On this new album, Sweet Honey In The Rock's distinctive swirl of a cappella vocals, encompassing waves of imaginative five-part harmonies and occasional solo showcases, is heard unaccompanied, aside from the quintet's hand percussion, on about half of the songs. Adorned with new arrangements by Sweet Honey's members, there are jazz standards, gospel/civil rights anthems, Afro-centric songs, show tunes, blues, and a salsa-flavored original. Interwoven throughout the presentation are the understated instrumental contributions of the trio nicknamed "the Honey Men" - Stacey Wade (musical director/piano/keyboards), Parker McAllister (upright acoustic & electric bass), Jovol Bell (drums, percussion) - who augment Sweet Honey's exhilarating, soulful voices and confident, genre-crossing dexterity.
Songlist: Breaths, Sabumoya, Come Ye, Shuku Shuku (Choo Choo Song), See Line Woman, Can't Afford to Lose My Man, If I Should Lose You, Love Me or Leave Me, Trouble in Mind, Feeling Good, The Midnight Special, Pata Pata, Freedom Suite, Oh Freedom, Come and Go with Me to That Land, I'm on My Way, Another Man Done Gone, Abbey Lincoln Medley, Down Here Below, The Music Is the Magic, Tell Me More and More and Then Some , Wild Is the Wind, Run On, Let There Be Peace, N'Diarabi, Africa Is Where My Heart Lies
Review: Bernice Johnson Reagon, the founder of Sweet Honey, is a scholar of African-American children's lore from the South, including songs, dances, games and stories. Two other members, Aisha Kahlil and Nitanju Bolade Casel, together conduct workshops and performances for youngsters. It's no surprise that these talanted singers produced this recording specifically for children. The songs include a one from the Georgia Sea Island Singers, one written by Leadbelly, a Yoruba song from Nigeria, traditional African-American songs and originals by the group. Each song is introduced with enough information to give a child an idea of what it's about. This is a grand way to introduce young people to other cultures. As in all of Sweet Honey's music, freedom for you, me and everyone is the most obvious message carried by song straight to the heart. The final track is a musically accompanied fantasy story, 'Alunde And The Story Of Ono' in which the song 'Alunde'(which means 'happy new day') is the most prized possession of the people of Ono. Thank you, Sweet Honey In The Rock!
Songlist: So Glad I'm Here, Cumbayah, Down in the Valley Two by Two, The Little Shekere, The Little Red Caboose, All For Freedom, Juba, Everybody Ought to Know, Calypso Freedom, Amen, Ise Oluwa, Meeting at the Building, Johanna and Rhody, Make New Friends, Horse and Buggy, Silvie, Alunde and the Story of Ono
Review: Breaths combines two albums originally released on vinyl. Good News was a live recording while We All...Everyone Of Us was created in the studio. They were issued in l981 and 1983 respectively. The singers at this time were Ysaye Maria Barnwell, Evelyn Maria Harris, Aisha Kahlil, Bernice Johnson Reagon and Yasmeen Bheti Williams. On it you will find the original recording of 'Breaths' which is one of the most often covered Sweet Honey arrangements ever. Another memorable song is 'Oughta Be A Woman' which has a story. Bernice Johnson Reagon talked about her mama to the great poet, June Jordan. Sometime later June sent her the poetry which are the lyrics of the song. Bernice notes, 'I think she just about got it right.' This disc compiles sixty seven minutes of music and is a grand introduction to the group, for it captures the breadth and depth of the Sweet Honey spirit in 19 songs.
Songlist: Breaths, Ella's Song, Oughts Be a Woman, Echo, Biko, Good News, We All Everyone of Us, More Than a Paycheck, How Long?, Alla That's All Right, But, Sometime, On Children, Listen to the Rhythm, I'm Goin' Stand, Battle for My Life, Study War No More, Chile Your Waters Run Red Through Soweto, If You Had Lived, Azanian Freedom Song
In the Middle of the Night
Review: Sweet Honey in the Rock, the award-winning female African American ensemble, releases their first recording since Dr. Reagon's retirement and is the group's fourth CD for children. The CD's colorful packaging - an eyecatching digipack and a 16-page booklet in the style of a school composition notebook - contributes to the theme of learning through music. Children from the ages of 9 to 12 pose questions about the mysteries of the adult world in print, and the members of Sweet Honey (six vocalists at the time of this recording, now five, not counting their onstage sign language interpreter) respond with songs of about peaceful coexistence, the virtues of education, the nurturing support and reassurance of parents and elders, following one's moral and spiritual compass, and working to better the surrounding world. Emphasizing the group's roots in African culture, the songs are matched up in print to Adinkra symbols used in Ghana, West Africa, to indicate wisdom, strength, unity, good fortune, harmony and other emotions crucial to leading a meaningful life. The sound of Sweet Honey is almost intoxicating, as they deploy their voices in myriad combinations and styles - call-and-response, scatting, percolating percussive effects, waterfalls of harmonies and counterpoints, rounds, spoken rap-like segments, and just about every other pleasing way the human voice can be utilized.
Songlist: 4 U 2 Know As U Grow, Education the Key, When I Grow Up, All I Have to Do, Do What the Spirit Say Do, Right Now, Trust, In the Middle of the Night, Chinese Proverb, The Soul of Nature, Indaba: We Believe in You, Member of the World Community, Dog, Dog, I Like It That Way, Me is We, The Best Medicine, Gratitude, 4 U 2 Know As U Grow
Review: 'Feel Something Drawing Me On,' the albums title song, comes from one of America's most distinguished Baptist preachers and songwriters, Reverend W. Herbert Brewster, whose gospel music was sung by Clara Ward and Mahalia Jackson. The entire recording is composed of gospel and spiritual music. Sweet Honey are exemplars of the African-American habit of modifying the staid hymns of European tradition with improvisation, which gives renewed life to songs that so often have had it squeezed out of them by mere repetitious formality. As you might suspect Sweet Honey find spiritual songs not only in formal church settings but in the lyrics of Woody Guthrie, in a funeral song from West Africa or wherever the human heart is coincident with song.
Songlist: We'll Understand It Better Bye and Bye, Father I Stretch My Hands to Thee, Hush Li'l Baby, I've Got to Know, When I Die Tomorrow, Meyango, Waters of Babylon (Rivers of Babylon), Feel Something Drawing on Me, Try Jesus, Leaning and Depending on the Lord, In the Upper Room
Review: An exciting collaboration between 'Titanic' composer James Horner and the powerful and enigmatic Sweet Honey, with one track written and co-produced by Carol King! Soundtrack recordings sometimes can strange bedfellows make (and not always the most consistent results), but 'Freedom Song' is tailor made for the socially conscious Sweet Honey. The production lets the energy and conviction dominate, without dousing the material with slick gimmickry. We dare you to sit still for the inspiring 'Oh Freedom,' or remain stoic through 'Po Pilgrim of Sorrow.'
Songlist: Born Angry, Woke Up This Morning With Mind Stayed On Freedom, Eyes On The Prize, "Welcome to SNCC", This Little Light of Mine, Making Progress is Rough...and Slow, Ain' Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me 'Round, Hungry For Courage, The Movement Grows, Jonah's Last Day, Road of Memories, We'll Never Turn Back, I'm On My Way To Freedom Land, Po' Pilgrim Of Sorrow, The Students Of Quinlan, This May Be The Last Time, Oh Freedom, ...From One Generation To The Next, Song Of Freedom
Review: This is a great recording for children to be introduced to music of African cultures, gospel, both traditional and original African-American children's songs and supportive songs for growing youngsters. 'I Got Shoes' could well be considered for very young children. A series of five 'African Numbers' has vocal backgrounds of African texture on top of which are counted numbers in English (1-20), Japanese (1-12), Swahili (1-8), French (1-10) and Spanish (1-16). There is a rap song featuring a refrain by the Sweet Honey In The Rock Children's Chorus which deals with ethics on a young persons level. It is entitled 'Young and Positive' and tells kids that they are the future and how to keep their sights set high. There is the archetypical Sweet Honey message in 'Freedom Train.' The whole recording is like a composition that ends with one of the most beautiful songs they have ever sung, 'Spirit Lullaby.' Sweet Honey is extraordinary!
Songlist: I Got Shoes, African Numbers 20, Tama Tama Tamali, Little David Play on Your Harp, African Numbers 12, Freedom Now, Run Molly Run, Young and Positive, African Numbers 8, Deep Blue Sea, Shoo Fly, Don't Bother Me, African Numbers 10 , Somagwaza, Freedom Train, African Numbers 16, Down the Road I Be Going, Look! Look! The Sun Woke Up!, Spirit Lullaby
Review: We can just see it now. Dissertations will be entitled, The Polyphony of Sweet Honey In The Rock, as presented in the year 1992. You would be better to enjoy this wonderful recording before the someone realizes that the creative spirit moving the women who have been the tributaries to the Sweet Honey institution has created something worthy of scholastic endeavor. No kidding. When five voices can sing different melodies and with them weave an overall tapestry of melody, something special is going on. For some reason this phenomena is particularly pronounced in this recording. Whether building to a belt it out crescendo as in the title track, delicately weaving an almost ethereal beauty as 'Patchwork Quilt,' or in the piece inspired by the Fulani people of Africa with its exotic feel, the interplay of voices is the real story of this magnificent music.
Songlist: In This Land, Patchwork Quilt, This Is A Mean World, When I Die, Babethandaza, Guide Me Oh Thou Great Jehovah, Fulani Chant, Trying Times, Now That The Buffalo Are Gone, I Be Your Water, Give Your Hands To Struggle, See See Rider, Colours, (Women Should Be) A Priority
Review: What sets this recording apart from others of Sweet Honey is the fact that they develop the songs for much longer than in a studio recording. The singers stay with tunes as long as the spirit moves them. This allows the freedom of responding to the moment, which has always existed among the singers, to be shared with the audience. The audience is wildly enthusiastic. It's great to hear several of the introductions to the songs for Bernice Johnson Reagon is a brilliant teacher and her comments enhance our appreciation of the music immensely. There is a amazing piece of music/theater/song/rap/sound effect which must be heard, for any description beggars the reality of the presentation of a poem by Sonia Sanchez entitled 'Letter To Dr. Martin Luther King.' Fabulous, fabulous, fabulous!
Songlist: Beatitudes, Run, Run, Mourner, Run, Wade in the Water, Drinking of the Wine, Where Are the Keys to the Kingdom?, Dream Songs of Love, Letter to Dr. Martin Luther King, Emergency, Our Side Won, Ode to the International Debt, Are My Hands Clean?, Denko, My Lament, Your Worries Ain't Like Mine, Song of the Exiled, Peace
The Women Gather
Review: The songs from 'Raise Your Voice!' come from two live benefit concerts from 2003. Acclaimed filmmaker and Emmy winner Stanley Nelson documented Sweet Honey's activities in this, Sweet Honey's 30th anniversary year, and this CD is the soundtrack to that film. It features 22 favorites such as 'I Remember, I Believe,' 'Joan Little,' 'In The Upper Room with Jesus,' 'In the Morning When I Rise,' 'Denko,' 'The Women Gather,' 'Run,' 'Come Unto Me,' 'Old Ship of Zion' and 'Movin' On.' 'Ballad of the Broken Word/Give the People Their Right to Vote!' features SH's collaboration with Toshi Reagon (daughter of founder Bernice Johnson Reagon) and her band Big Lovely. All other songs are a cappella, with occasional tamborine and light percussion. 'Raise Your Voice!' puts us in the audience to experience this inspirational, soulful, powerful music from these a cappella legends!
Songlist: I Remember, I Believe, Chant, Joan Little, In The Upper Room With Jesus, In The Morning When I Rise, Fulani Chant, Ballad of Harry T. Moore, Denko, Ballad Of The Broken Word / Give The People Their Right To Vote!, Prayer To The One, The Women Gather, Nature Song, Run, Come Unto Me, Old Ship Of Zion, Movin' On
Review: Not only do Sweet Honey delve into the tradition of African-American sacred songs but they create songs of soulful similarity which were stimulated by other traditions. 'I Remember, I Believe' was inspired while pondering the Hebrew tradition of 'remembering' as the basis of faith. 'Inner Voices' reflects the fact that it is within the stillness of our beings that we can discover our connection to the Creator. 'Prayer To The One' reflects wisdom from Indian Hindu sacred texts which tells us that there is no place, no space, in which Spirit does not exist. Each of these songs are written by different members of Sweet Honey, yet they are all varying expressions of the same shared inner journey. Share the beauty that is the manifestation of a collective spiritual path.
Songlist: I Remember I Believe, No More Auction Block, Would You Harbor me, Prayer, Sing Oh Barren One, Mystic Oceans, Jordan River, Stay on the Battlefield, Can't Hide Sinner, Jesus Is All, Inner Voices, Prayer to the One, Balm in Gilead, We Are
Review: In the spring of 1975 Sweet Honey was performing at a folk festival in Chicago when they were approached by a man who asked if they wanted to make a record. They did. A year later Bruce Kaplan of Flying Fish Records did indeed release the first Sweet Honey record. For a dozen years and eight records Flying Fish recorded and produced the music of Sweet Honey In The Rock. Bruce died in 1992. This set is dedicated to his memory and legacy. Bernice Johnson Reagon compiled and produced a two disc collection from the Flying Fish years. Seventeen tracks on each of the discs and a fine historical booklet make this the item to obtain if you don't have those eight albums and wish a definitive overview of those years which now are being considered 'the early years.'
Songlist: Disc 1, Ella's Song, Wade In The Water, Denko, On Children, Echo, Joan Little, Beatitudes, Peace, Sitting On Top Of The World, More Than A Paycheck, Crying For Freedom In South Africa, They Are All Falling Around Me, Mae Frances, I'm Gon' Stand!!!, Feel Something Drawing Me On, In The Upper Room, Seven Principles, , Disc 2, Testimony, Oughta Be A Woman, Fannie Lou Hamer, Meyango, Run Mourner Run, As Long As I Have Breath In My Body, No Images , Sometime, The Gift Of Love, Biko, My Way, State Of Emergency, Cape Fear River Chant, Rivers Of Babylon, Stranger Blues, Oh Death, Breaths
Review: It is 1993. Sweet Honey celebrate twenty years of passionate existence, yet it is just a beginning. Bernice Johnson Reagon says, 'this group is a part of my living - not spare time, not what I do for a living, not a job, not a hobby - but the way I breathe, the how I make my way through my life and the life of my times.' In light of this, the first song, 'Spiritual,' comes into startling clarity when we hear the oft repeated line, 'Can't no one know at sunrise - How this day is going to end.' A grand rap tribute to the history of the group celebrates the twenty years and twenty-one women who have been participants on the journey of struggle and joy which is Sweet Honey In The Rock. More than ever before, the rhythm and rhyme of this maturing institution is richly presented. Just listen to Wodaabe Nights and hear a great musical transposition from Africa to America.
Songlist: Spiritual, Ballad of the Broken Word, A Tribute, Come by Here, Wanting Memories, No Mirrors in My Nana's House, In the Morning When I Rise, Long Journey Home, I'm Going to Get My Baby Out of Jail, Sojourner's Battle Hymn, Rest for the Weary, Run on for a Long Time, Stay, Wodaabe Nights
Review: Though directed to children, 'Still The Same Me' is a delight at any age. The celebratory mood begins with the calls of 'Tuwe Tuwe,' a children's clapping song, arranged by Ysaye Maria Barnwell. Aisha Kahlil's own 'Nature Song,' a 3/4 tempo revelry for the earth that speeds up faster and faster at the end, Carole Maillard's infectious 'I Love To Laugh,' Nitanju Bolade Casel's 'Oh My Goodness, Look At This Mess!' are among the 17 tracks that will inspire kids with joyful rhythms and melodies. Ever positive and encouraging, the liner notes include interviews with each of the six women of Sweet Honey, describing their own experiences as children and answering questions such as 'What was your earliest music memory' and 'do you remember a favorite song/poem/speech.' Sweet Honey's 'Still The Same Me' is a testimonial to the relentless power of 'Yes! I can do it,' and the difference we can all make in the world.
Songlist: Tuwe Tuwe, Nature Song, I Love To Laugh, Oh My Goodness, Look at This Mess, We're Almost Home, We Shall Not Be Moved, Way Down Deep, Still The Same Me, Still Gotta Get Up In The Morning, Time, Goodnight
Review: This is the first album by this incredible a cappella group who sing original and traditional songs of the Black experience. The five women utilize an exciting range of vocal styles with occasional accompaniment. Their unique harmonic blends and vocal textures produce an earthy, solid and refreshing sound. Selections include, 'The Sun Will Never Go Down,' 'Joanne Little' and 'Traveling Sounds.'
Songlist: Sweet Honey in the Rock, The Sun Will Never Go Down, Dream Variations, Let Us All Come Together, Joanne Little, Jesus Is My Only Friend, Are there Any Rights I'm Entitled To?, Going to See My Baby, You Make My Day Pretty, Hey Mann, Doing Things Together, Traveling Shoes
Review: An African inspired improvisation, rich with ululations and glottal stops, opens 'The Other Side,' and immediately communicates a message that the music you are about to hear is rooted in another cultural evolution. We are presented with songs of rootlessness, the exploitation of the displaced, a hope to become a community, the difficult path of the stranger, revolution and finally emerge into love. At the end of our journey through this spirit of struggle we are exhorted to go back to the foundation of our existence in the service of the Lord. In the final song, 'Tomorrow,' the summary of a life journey through this veil of tears is presented with a hopeful melancholy.
Songlist: Mandiacapella, Step By Step, Deportees, Moving On, Stranger Blues, Venceremos, The Other Side, No Images, Gift Of Love, Mae Frances, Let Us Go Back To The Old Landmark, Tomorrow
Review: The venerable Sweet Honey, a product of twenty-five years of association, are a catalyst for social reformation as much as a musical entity. Six African-American women (five singers and a sign-language interpreter) sing in the '19th Century congregational style'; their material is drawn from the spirituals, work songs, Western-African traditionals and gospel that accompanied the tribulations of their forebears, and then evolved to include so much more-jazz and blues. Their passion can be heard on the record's opener, 'We Are The Ones We've Been Waiting For,' the lyrics of which are from a poem honoring South African women, and as such are a message of freedom to all women, and to all that are not free. 'Chant,' a round from central Africa, employs vocalized syllables; the imagination does the rest. 'Motherless Chil'' uses the repetition typical of this form, as each line reinforces the next to its inevitable conclusion, for which their can be no argument. 'Greed,' a sermonette by Bernice Johnson Reagon, is an indictment of a decadent society. While the music of Sweet Honey is an acknowlegement of the human condition, it is also a prescription of hope and healing.
Songlist: We Are The Ones, Chant, Battered Earth, Motherless Chil', Redemption Song, Greed, Sound-Bite From Beijing, Sometime, Run, Anybody Here?, Forever Love, I Was Standing By The Bedside Of A Neighbor, Hope
Review: Long awaited, the 20 arrangements contained herein are a joyous testimony to the significance of this African-American female ensemble. Compiled and edited by Ysaye M Barnwell, whose bass register and poignant compositions are an integral component of the Sweet Honey character, the songbook also includes performance notes, a discography and several essays. The voice ranges vary, depending upon the arrangement, but are typically five part, and reach down into the bass clef, notated as SATB plus lead. Their songs are living and breathing entities, and the texture of their sound requires flexibility. As said of Sweet Honey in the foreword, by Harry Belafonte, 'their melodies make the soul sing!'
Songlist: Breaths, Would You Harbor Me?, We Are..., Cum Ba Yah, Young and Positive, Inner Voices, Run, Denko, Fulani Chant, Dream Songs Of Love, Wodaabe Nights, Alunde, Stay, Prayer To The One, Goin' To See My Baby, Motherless Chil', Ella's Song, Sometime, I Remember, I Believe, No More Auction Block
Review: The group is known for wonderful live performances which this DVD captures admirably. Subtitled 'A Concert For The Child in Each Of US' this entertaining video was filmed in Glide Memorial Church in San Francisco ands is a must-own for all fans of Sweet Honey. A motivational and empowering DVD for old and young alike.
Songlist: So Glad I'm Here, Down in the Valley Two by Two, Freedom Medley:, - This Little Light of Mine, - We Shall Not Be Moved, - Ain't Scared of Your Jails, We Shall Overcome, Young and Positive, Juba, Run Molly Run, I Got Shoes, Freedom Now
Review: The group is known for wonderful live performances which this new video captures admirably. Filmed in Glide Memorial Church in San Francisco, this is a must-own for all fans.
Songlist: So Glad I'm Here, Down in the Valley Two by Two, Freedom Medley:, -This Litte Light of Mine, -We Shall Not Be Moved, -Ain't Scared of Your Jails, We Shall Overcome, Young and Positive, Juba, Run Molly Run, I Got Shoes, Freedom Now