…I have always believed art is the conscience of the human soul and that artists have the responsibility not only to show life as it is but to show life as it should be. … Sweet Honey In The Rock has withstood the onslaught. She has been unprovoked by the 30 pieces of silver. Her songs lead us to the well of truth that nourishes the will and courage to stand strong. She is the keeper of the flame. – Harry Belafonte
SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK has maintained a rich and distinguished legacy as one of the most revered and treasured a cappella ensembles in contemporary music. Over the past four decades the Grammy Award nominated group has stayed true to its adventurous and diverse mixture of blues, African, jazz, gospel and R&B music, with more recent excursions into symphonic music and collaborations into the dance/theater genre. Last year they celebrated their 40th Anniversary performing a series of special performances across the nation.
Sweet Honey closed out their anniversary year with the release of their first ever holiday single and video with an inspired a cappella version of the classic Christmas carol, “Silent Night.” The song was also performed live at their final HOLYDAYS shows. In a message encrypted in the video, Sweet Honey stated, “During this very troubling and turbulent holiday season, we stand with the millions of Americans and people around the world who believe there can be no peace without justice and that black lives and all lives matter. We send our prayers and dedicate our rendition of “Silent Night” and this video to all the families and communities who are grieving over the loss of a loved one. We must continue to demand that our collective voices are heard and will not be silenced until true justice and peace prevails.”
The ensemble has embarked on a new chapter in the musical journey this year with their five core members Louise Robinson, Carol Maillard (both founding members) Nitanju Bolade Casel, Aisha Kahlil and Shirley Childress (American Sign Language Interpreter who has been performing live with the group since 1981). The group has added guest performers for some performances, with bassist Romeir Mendez getting most of the work. Their traditional show integrates some of their most popular songs, along with renditions of classic hits. Sweet Honey’s patented fusion of varied music genres coupled with inspiring songs that embody social commentary, activism, and uplift the human spirit remain to be at the core of their unique artistry.
They are currently in the studio working on a new album which will be released in the late fall of this year. The album will feature several new compositions fused with some songs they have either covered and/or performed live that have the ensemble has previously not recorded.
Last summer they were invited to by the US Embassy in Belize to perform several concerts and also support the Embassy’s community outreach programs. In February 2015, they were invited by the US Embassy’s in Ethiopia, Peru and Jamaica for similar tours to support their celebration of Black History Month in each respective country.
In May, they completed their fifth US Embassy tour in Swaziland, which included a concert performance at the internationally acclaimed 9TH ANNUAL MTN BUSHFIRE MUSIC FESTIVAL, which regularly attracts an audience of 20,000. This July they also were featured performers at the eleventh annual Festival Of Voices in Hobart, Australia, which attracts choirs from all over the country. They also completed a small tour which included major concert performances in Hobart, Launceston (Tasmania) Melbourne and Sydney.
In the past few years they were the recipients of a distinguished award presented by the Search For Common Ground Organization and the Keeper Of The Flame Award by the National Delta Sigma Theta Sorority at their 100th Anniversary Celebration and national convention (both held Washington, DC). In 2013, SWEET HONEY performed at the national memorial service for the late Nelson Mandela at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC, had a successful launching of their first ever online fundraising effort with Indie Gogo, and Dr. Ysaye Barnwell (a member for 34 years) retired from the ensemble in May. In addition, The Brooklyn Academy of Music’s annual DANCEAFRICA 2013 featured SWEET HONEY as guest performers with the Chuck Davis African American Dance Ensemble and the BAM Restoration Dance Africa Ensemble.
The ever-growing list of SWEET HONEY’s musical and activist achievements since its creation as a quartet in 1973 at workshop at the D.C. Black Repertory Theater Company in Washington, DC (by Dr. Bernice Reagon) is beyond stunning. The ladies have performed in Nairobi and Beijing at the U.N. World Conference on Women, toured Europe, Japan, Africa, Australia, New Zealand and been the subject of two PBS documentaries “Gotta Make This Journey” produced and directed by Michelle Parkerson and “SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK: Raise Your Voice,” produced and directed by Emmy Award winner Stanley Nelson. They’ve recorded film soundtracks, received several Grammy nominations including “EXPERIENCE 101,” (a children’s record released in 2007), and shared Grammy Awards for their participation in the multi-artist record “Folkways: A Vision Shared – A Tribute to Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly,” as well as for their contribution to “cELLAbration: A Tribute to Ella Jenkins. They again honored Guthrie in a Centennial Celebration of his birthday presented at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D. C. in November 2012 which was broadcast on PBS-TV in 2013. On the first observance of Martin Luther King Day, the group appeared in a 1986 PBS-TV special, “The Dream and the Drum,” and in early 2012 performed at the unveiling ceremonies for the monument for Dr. King on the National Mall.
The same year, SWEET HONEY debuted their first ever orchestral collaboration, providing the lyrics for composer William Banfield’s “Symphony 10: Affirmations for a New World,” co-commissioned by the National Symphony Orchestra and the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. They also released a thought-provoking single and video, “Are We a Nation,” inspired by the controversial immigration law that was enacted in Arizona. The song captured a Gold Songwriter Award from the 27th Mid-Atlantic Song Contest and was featured on an all-star compilation, “Bordersongs,” that raised money for the No More Deaths organization, which provides water and humanitarian aid along the Arizona/Mexico border.
Their most recent 2-CD set, “A Tribute – Live! Jazz at Lincoln Center,” (released in February 2013) pays homage to some of the great female African-American vocalists whose songs and activism helped shape the group, including Abbey Lincoln, Odetta, Miriam Makeba, and Nina Simone. Last year, the ladies performed several major TRIBUTE performances which included their contemporary jazz trio of HONEY MEN who also played on the live recordings at Jazz At Lincoln Center (Musical Director/piano Stacey Wade, bassist Parker McAllister and drummer/percussionist Jovol Bell).
In 2008, SWEET HONEY was commissioned by the Alvin Ailey Dance Company to write an original music score for GO IN GRACE, which was directed and choreographed by Ailey member Hope Boykin. GO IN GRACE, debuted as part the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater’s 50th Anniversary season and tour and featured SWEET HONEY performing as singers and dancers. The GO IN GRACE score was also recorded and released independently by SWEET HONEY’S SHE-ROCKS 5 label.