Sweet Honey in the Rock
Nov 21, 2013 12:31PM ● Published by Cate Reynolds
ANNAPOLIS – Internationally-renowned a cappella ensemble SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK will perform at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts on Sunday, December 8 at 7 pm. SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK: Celebrating the Holydays is a one-of-a-kind seasonal concert that celebrates music from many faiths around the globe. Featuring stunning vocal prowess rooted in the rich textures of African American legacy, this powerhouse group will perform a joyful blend of holiday favorites. Tickets are $58; $53 for Maryland Hall members.
Challenge and change are the themes underlying the 39-year career of the revered female African-American a cappella ensemble, SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK. In the course of creating its adventurous and diverse mixture of blues, African, jazz, gospel and R&B music, with excursions into symphonic and dance theater, 23 vocalists have passed through the group, formed as a quartet in 1973 at a workshop at the D.C. Black Repertory Theater Company in Washington.
Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon, Carol Maillard, Louise Robinson, and Mie drew their name from the first song they learned, “Sweet Honey in the Rock,” based on a Biblical psalm. “Sweet Honey speaks of a land that is so rich when you break the rocks open, honey flows. And we thought it was something like us African-American women . . . strong like a rock, but inside [there’s] honey – sweet,” explains Robinson.
The ever-growing list of SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK’s musical and activist achievements since its creation is beyond stunning. The ladies have performed in Nairobi and Beijing at the U.N. World Conference on Women, toured the UK, Japan, Africa, Australia and various European locations, been the subject of two PBS documentaries “Gotta Make This Journey” and “SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK: Raise Your Voice,” recorded film soundtracks, received Grammy nominations for several of their albums for children, and shared a Grammy Award for their participation in the multi-artist record “Folkways: A Vision Shared – A Tribute to Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly.” They again honored Guthrie in a Centennial Celebration of his birthday presented at the Kennedy Center in Washington in November 2012.
The group appeared in a 1986 PBS special, “The Dream and the Drum,” on the first national observance of Martin Luther King Day and in early 2012 performed at the unveiling ceremonies for the monument for Dr. King on the National Mall. The same year, SWEET HONEY also 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.
The backgrounds of the current members of SWEET HONEY are as varied as one would expect. Founder member Carol Maillard, who took a sabbatical from the group between 1976 and 1992, is an accomplished actress and has performed on stage, film, and television. The other founding member, Louise Robinson, returned to the group in 2004 after a 27-year hiatus during which she formed and toured with Bay Area a cappella quintet Street Sounds for 14 years. Aisha Kahlil (the most tenured member of the group at 32 years, joining in 1981) is a master teacher in voice and dance who studied extensively at the Alvin Ailey School. A group member since 1985, Nitanju Bolade Casel was previously active in studying, performing and organizing in Dakar, Senegal. Her compositions earned her finalist status in the 2006 and 2007 International Songwriter’s Competition.
Her experience producing the Grammy-nominated “Experience…101” was good training for her role as producer of “A Tribute – Live!” On-stage sign language interpreter Shirley Childress, who learned sign language from her deaf parents, is a founding member of the Black Deaf Advocates organization. She has interpreted for SWEET HONEY since 1981 and for such stellar authors as Maya Angelou, Alice Walker, and Audrey Lorde.
SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK is a performance ensemble rooted in African American history and culture. The ensemble educates, entertains and empowers its audience and community through the dynamic vehicles of a cappella singing and American Sign Language interpretation for the Deaf and hearing impaired. Sweet Honey’s audience and community comes from diverse backgrounds and cultures throughout the United States and around the world, and includes people of all ages, economic/education/social backgrounds, political persuasions, religious affiliations, sexual preferences and differing abilities.
Maryland Hall is supported by a grant from the Maryland State Arts Council, an agency funded by the State of Maryland and the National Endowment for the Arts, and a grant from the Arts Council of Anne Arundel County. Additional support comes from sponsors including: AT&T, Inovalon, Inc., Comcast, ARINC, Wells Fargo, Severn Savings Bank, Loews Annapolis Hotel, Bay Ridge Wine and Spirits, Towne Transport, Verizon, Sandy Spring Bank and M&T Bank.
For more information or to order tickets, contact the Maryland Hall Box Office at 410-280-5640 or visit www.marylandhall.org. Box office hours are Monday - Friday from noon – 5 pm. Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts is located at 801 Chase Street, Annapolis.