Writing this blog is reminding me of how important music has always been in my life. It's also showing me what strong and lasting impressions live music has made on me.
One group that I have seen more than any other is Sweet Honey in the Rock. An acapella group, formed by civil rights era Freedom Singer Bernice Johnson Reagon, this group captures the essences of African-American vocal traditions. Spirituals, gospel, blues, rhythm and blues, protest songs, and children's music all figure in Sweet Honey's repertoire. Four or five colorfully adorned singers and a sign language interpreter, seated on a bare stage, invariably bring audiences to their feet, dancing and singing along. To be at a Sweet Honey concert is to be in church, at a party, and at a rally, all at the same time.
Existing now for over forty years, the makeup of the group shifts from time to time; but not so often that the women cease to be our sisters, neighbors, aunties, trusted friends. Sweet Honey's music gives voice to our greatest joys and fears, our dreams and nightmares. She (the collective).challenges us to seek knowledge, to take action, to heal this world of ours. When you leave a Sweet Honey in the Rock performance, you know you've been changed.
Here are some of my Sweet Honey moments:
- at Chicago's Medinah Temple, marveling at their singing and wonderful shekere playing
- at Sweet Honey's 10th anniversary in Washington, DC, their home base, when all of the women who had ever been in the group (at least fifteen of them) spread across the stage and sang together
- at the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival when our group, Sojourner, also performed and I got a chance to sit at breakfast with founder Bernice Reagon for a wonderful chat
- at the Rockford (IL) Women's Music Festival, where I told stories and was elated that my name was on the back of the festival tee, along with Sweet Honey and the other performers
- at Chicago's People's Church, where there were so many women there that, by consensus, the men's washrooms became unisex facilities
- at Chicago's Orchestra Hall, where my mother heard the group for the first time, and we saw Ella Jenkins in the lobby
- at my workplace, the Old Town School of Folk Music, where they shared tales from their herstory, and had a young man (what?!) playing bass
- at a "meet and greet" at the University of Chicago with retired member Ysaye Barnwell, who had me and Zahra sing for her
- at Chicago' Millennium Park, where Bernice's daughter, Toshi Reagon, carried on the family tradition of message music and communal singing
To my favorite Honeys - Bernice, Evelyn, and Ysaye - I LOVE YOU!!