BURLINGTON Since 1973, Sweet Honey in the Rock has moved audiences with spirituals, lullabies, hymns, gospel music, jazz, rap, reggae, doo-wop, hip-hop, and the blues. As expected, they had the Flynn MainStage crowd standing, swaying, clapping, and singing on Sept. 22, opening night of the Flynns 2007-08 season.
Look elsewhere for a list of the stirring songs Sweet Honey performed. And, if you want history and analysis, Horace Clarence Boyers excellent essay on a capella music and on Sweet Honeys West African polyphonic style and folk choral response device is at www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters .
In this piece, via brief excerpts from We Who Believe in Freedom, a 1993 book celebrating Sweet Honeys 20th anniversary, you will find personal statements by the courageous African American women who created and constitute Sweet Honey. Hopefully, their own words will introduce you to this vibrant and inspiring ensemble better than a standard concert review.
Bernice Johnson Reagon (founded Sweet Honey, retired in 2004): As African Americans and as women, we have had to have the standing power of the rocks and the mountains. This quality often obscures the fact that we are sweet like honey....I did not know that as years passed it would become clear that Sweet Honey in the Rock was a woman who was always more than the total of the individual women who moved to the stage lending our all so that she could beBy going inside ourselves and singing specifically out of our lives, our community, and our world, we try to help those listening, in the sound of our singing, to create a celebration based on what they can embrace that is real to them at that time.
Ysaye Maria Barnwell: Sweet Honey in the Rock is like a tree which, from its roots in Africa, the Caribbean, the experiences of slavery, Northern migration, the struggle for Civil Rights, and the institution of the Black church has grown strong, and is developing many branches.
Louise Robinson: We were doing a concert in Santa Rosa in the spring of 1992 and we were performing Juba. I went into the audience to different people to sing along with me. When the concert was over, I was in the parking lot getting in my car when this woman pulls up and gets out and comes over to me. She asked if I remembered a man sitting in a wheelchair in the aisle. I said, Yes I do. She pointed to the same man, who was in her car. She told me that he was her husband and was in a wheelchair because he had had a stroke. She said that she was somewhat anxious when I came to her husband and placed the microphone in front of him to sing. She then informed me that her husband had not uttered a word since his stroke until that moment when he sang his part in Juba. I got chills thinking about the power of singing
Carol Lynn Maillard: I am part of the full circle that is Sweet Honey in the Rock: past, present,.to come. It touches the heart and soul yet its extremely tangible. Its a rhythm, a new riff, a mad dance, swirling melodies, history remembered and reborn, a babys cry, the elders in prayer, the first mother, its all colors, all textures of skin and hair, its Africa adorned all over the worldits life. I feel all of it profoundly when I am in song
Aisha Kahlil: Sweet Honey concerts are complex, they are actually conversations, and therefore we perform with a consciousness of the experience and exchange with the audience. Sometimes I am hesitant to explore ranges of sound that might be harsh or irritable, although my experience tells me that sometimes it takes making those sounds to get to another stage. When I listen to [John Coltrane], sometimes the sounds he makes on his horn, it sounds like hes dying or something and then he follows with a sequence that seems like something straight from heaven. Its like he goes through a phrase where hes climbing up a mountain climbing, climbing and all of a sudden he just soars.It feels as if he had to go through that to get up there. How to find the path to expressing unlimited freedom within the earth-rooted sounds of Sweet Honey continues to be my search.
Nitanju Bolade Casel: Into an open mind, slowly mix the following ingredients: 7 oz. of willpower, 1 lb. of patience, 3 heaping tb. of perseverance, 9 pinches of knowledge. Cover with love and let stand until it begins to rise beyond your expectations. In the meantime, stuff an open heart with equal parts of compassion and understanding until full.Bake forever inside your faith, and lifes experiences will let you know when they are doneBon App鴩t! Each of the twenty women who have stepped into the arms of [Sweet Honey] has added seasonings gathered from her own lifes journeys, creating a musical message steeped in Afrocentric traditions and rich with the flavor of personal experiences.
Want to taste Sweet Honey in the Rock at home? The Flynn itself provides a fine one minute introduction on YouTube.com. Also, Sweet Honey has just released Experience101, a CD especially aimed at children and parents. Many other CDs and Raise Your Voices, a DVD documentary of Sweet Honey filmed during the groups 30th anniversary year (2003), are available at www.goldenrod.com. All Music Guide says that Live at Carnegie Hall (1988) is probably the groups best showcase.
The Flynn will present three more American Routes concerts in early 2008. On January 11, Carolina Chocolate Drops will play African American string band music in FlynnSpace. The Flynn MainStage will host musical storyteller Arlo Guthrie on Feb. 2, and BeauSoleils colorful Cajun band will be there on Feb. 9. For tickets and further info, the Flynn Box Office is at 153 Main St, Burlington, 802-863-5966, www.flynncenter.org .