Performance Friday, November 4, 2011 | 8 PM

Sweet Honey In The Rock

Stern Auditorium / Perelman Stage
Sweet Honey In The Rock is proof that stunning music making and a profound message can go hand in hand. This Grammy Award‒winning a cappella group, founded in 1973, continues to move audiences with its beautifully intricate harmonies and inspirational stories of truth. Rooted in the rich traditions of the African American musical legacy, Sweet Honey In The Rock's songs include hopeful anthems that celebrate the struggle for justice and social consciousness everywhere.


  • Sweet Honey In The Rock


  • Sweet Honey In The Rock

    Ysaye Maria Barnwell
    Nitanju Bolade Casel
    Aisha Kahlil
    Carol Maillard
    Louise Robinson
    Shirley Childress Saxton

    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.

    Founded by Bernice Johnson Reagon in 1973 at the DC Black Repertory Theater Company, Sweet Honey In The Rock-the internationally renowned a cappella ensemble-has been a vital and innovative presence in the music culture in communities of conscience around the world. 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 US and around the world, raising a collective voice of hope, love, justice, peace, and resistance. Sweet Honey invites 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 took that philosophy into the studio last year and recorded "Are We a Nation?," a song that challenges misguided and discriminatory responses to the country's immigration issues. Co-written by Sweet Honey and Barry Eastmond, the song was produced by Eastmond and features award-winning rap artist Yonas. A music video of "Are We a Nation?," produced and directed by James Lester, was also released online last summer.

    Sweet Honey In the Rock begins its 38th season with a schedule full of excitement. In addition to a busy performance year, Sweet Honey is prepping a special tribute CD entitled Sweet Honey In The Rock: Remembering Nina, Odetta, and Miriam, recorded live at Jazz at Lincoln Center last April. The group is also developing a new collaborative symphonic orchestra piece, Affirmations (For a New World), with noted composer Bill Banfield that will debut with the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, on April 22, 2012.

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"We Are a Nation"
Sweet Honey in the Rock
She Rocks

Jeff Tamarkin on Sweet Honey In The Rock

When asked what their fans might expect when Sweet Honey In The Rock returns to Carnegie Hall on November 4, Aisha Kahlil, a mainstay of the all-female a cappella ensemble for some three decades, sums it up in a single word: Sankofa. A word of African origin, it means “moving forward while looking back.”

Sweet Honey In The Rock has always been about both: respecting that which has come before, while pointing toward the future. With nearly four decades behind them, the group’s significant body of work continually reveals new riches that delight fans both old and new, while at the same time Sweet Honey seeks fresh avenues of expression.

Their most recent undertaking is a live in-concert tribute to three iconic women—each now gone—whose music inspired the group: Nina Simone, Odetta, and Miriam Makeba, as well as a special tribute to Abbey Lincoln, who passed away prior to their performance. “They were all conscious women and activists in their own right who tied their music to the work they did in their lives,” says Kahlil. “We look up to them as heroines and mentors. We were all touched in a great way by everything they left behind for us.”

Coming next from Sweet Honey is Affirmations (For a New World), a collaborative, fully orchestrated effort with Bill Banfield, a composer and professor at Boston’s Berklee College of Music. “Each of us wrote lyrics for it,” says Kahlil, “then Bill took our lyrics and set them to music.”

One thing that hasn’t changed since Sweet Honey In The Rock was formed in 1973—founder Bernice Johnson Reagon retired from the group in 2004—is its commitment to providing audiences with a quality presentation of vocal harmonic music. And if there is one place in which they love to sing, it’s Carnegie Hall; Sweet Honey’s 1988 live album recorded at the venerable institution remains a fan favorite to this day. “We love the New York audience and we love the acoustics of the Hall,” says Kahlil. “The sound is special, and there’s a certain energy that the whole experience brings to us.”

When the legendary Harry Belafonte speaks of Sweet Honey In The Rock, he refers to the group as a singular entity. “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,” he has said. Like the music of Sweet Honey In The Rock, Belafonte’s statement is unadorned, eloquent, and direct. Sometimes that’s all you need: the human voice speaking—and singing—the truth.

—Jeff Tamarkin is the associate editor of JazzTimes magazine.

© 2011 The Carnegie Hall Corporation

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