Soul wasn’t the only thing to enter people’s living rooms on Thursday night when Sweet Honey in the Rock performed for the University of Nevada, Reno.
There was a message to be heard.
This Grammy nominated, all-woman, African-American a cappella ensemble weaved rhythm, melodies and harmonies into a shell shocking performance, vocalizing racial injustice in the United States.
Sweet Honey in the Rock was founded in 1973 by Bernice Johnson Reagon in Washington, D.C. The group’s genres include Gospel music, Blues, Spoken word and Folk.
At the beginning of the live streamed event, UNR’s Program Manager Shoshana Zeldner described Sweet Honey’s music to be socially conscious.
“For more than 45 years, their music has honored heroes and unseen heroes of Jazz, Folk, African, African-American, hip-hop and pop,” Zeldner said.
Accompanied by bassist Romeir Mendez, Sweet Honey sang a handful of songs that were upbeat and moving, encouraging the audience to sing and dance along.
The current members of the A capella ensemble include Aisha Kahlil, Carol Maillard, Barbara Hunt, Christie Dashiell, Louise Robinson, Nitanju Bolade Casel and Rochelle Rice.
The ensemble opened with their song “Sweet Sweet Honey!” showcasing the group’s ability to harmonize with little to no instruments.
“Sweet Sweet Honey!” was a fun and uplifting way to open up the performance, but the mood soon turned when Sweet Honey jumped into their song “Oh, Sankofa,” a lyrical mix describing the events of the 1921 Tulsa race massacre in Oklahoma.
Audience members could appreciate the beautiful vocals in “Oh, Sankofa” but the message of injustice against black Americans was clear, and heartbreaking.
“Since I’ve been born, I hear over and over again how…black people need to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps,” Robinson said, while passionately describing the origin of the word sankofa. “But, history will tell you we’ve done that many a time, and when we do that we become victims of what we have done.”
The songs that followed “Oh, Sankofa” included “Redemption Song” and “Hush (Somebody’s Calling My Name).”
A newer addition to the group, Rochelle Rice, lead the ensemble in “Hush (Somebody’s Calling My Name).” This song was A capella at it’s finest. Rice’s lead vocals blended smoothly with the other women in the ensemble. The group sang with emotions that could be described as love, loss and the awakening of a new day.
“My favorite part of this song says ‘I’m so glad trouble don’t last always’,” Rice said. “That lets me know that it may look bleak on today, but tomorrow is a new day of hope, joy, love and abundance, Amen.”
After taking the audience on an emotional roller coaster with the previous set of songs, Sweet Honey sang “Ella’s Song,” a tune about keeping one’s freedom, and ensuring the freedoms of minorities in communities nationwide remain.
Sweet Honey then jumped into a combination of spoken word with “Are We A Nation?” which didn’t hold back in calling out America’s darker parts regarding race-based history. However, the group ended their set on an uplifting rhythm with their song “In The Morning When I Rise.”
After their performance, Sweet Honey joined Zeldner on a live video call to conduct the Q&A portion that accompanies each performance in the Performing Arts Series.
Along with giving advice to art and music students, Sweet Honey encouraged the youth of today to stay strong in the trying times of the pandemic, and to focus on self improvement.
The performance of Sweet Honey in the Rock is on-demand until April 8th. Those who were unable to watch the live stream on March 25 can still register and get a recording of the performance.
The last performance of the spring semester is on April 22 at 6 p.m. featuring jazz composer Michael Mayo.
Emilie Rodriguez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @emilieemeree.