This story was originally posted on May 7, 2022. Visit the Nevada Sagebrush Archive to see all past stories.
The smooth rhythm that “Sweet Honey In the Rock” brought to the Nightingale Hall on March 10 was more than just good vibes — It was a call to action.
The Grammy-nominated, African-American ensemble doesn’t just serve to blow their audience’s minds with their incredible performance skills; they serve to educate communities on the social injustice in the U.S.
When Shoshana Zeldner, the University of Nevada, Reno’s program manager, introduced the a cappella ensemble, she explained that the group’s original members were a part of “The Freedom Singers” during the civil rights movement in the 1960s.
The group continues to spread their legacy and empower people with their music. In the past, they performed for the Obama’s and played at the memorial service for Nelson Mandela.
Before they even started playing, Zeldner set the bar high for the group. The audience wondered if they’d match up to their description.
The five singers — Nitanju Bolade Casel, Aisha Kahlil, Carol Maillard, Louise Robinson and Rochelle Rice — took the stage. Romeir Mendez, the bassist and Barbara Hunt, an American Sign Language interpreter, also joined the members on stage.
Their outfits were magnificent, sparkling in silver and gold hues with hints of black as an accent.
When they started in on their first song, they only sang a few notes before they paused.
The ladies called out to the audience to “loosen up” and clap along to the beat. This wasn’t just a concert to watch, but one for the audience to interact with to create a surreal and captivating experience.
They played the jazzy introduction song, “Sweet, Sweet Honey!” to get the audience going and spark up the audience. They’re only into their first song, and they’ve got everyone there wrapped around their fingers.
After the first song, they sang “We Are,” a song about people and the love we should have for one another.
“We are one … we are the spirit of God,” sang the deep resounding voices of each woman, giving chills to the listeners. The deep bass that Mendez compliments the tune perfectly.
The best part about this a capella group is the distinction of each voice, not one sounding the same. The women all sang so beautifully and are recognizable in their own unique performances.
It’s hard to watch just one when they are all captivating in their own way.
After they finished the second song, they took a short break, chatted with the audience before they started on the third piece called “No Mirrors in my Nana’s House.”
This song had a faster beat and described the beauty of people in their eyes only and that the world they’d known as children was about love not hate.
“I never knew that my skin was too Black … I never knew that my nose was too flat … I never knew that my clothes didn’t fit … I never knew that there were things that I missed and the beauty of everything was in her eyes,” the women sang while the audience let the impactful lyrics sink into their hearts.
The next piece had a rhythm like slam poetry.
The women chanted about continuing to stay six feet apart, wear a mask and pray for redemption. They had the audience sing along to the song as well, and it was just the beginning of the powerful messages they sent in their songs.
Then, Sweet Honey started singing a song originally written by Marvin Gaye called “Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology).” At the beginning of the song, the lyrics refer to Gaye as “one of the most brilliant artists” to ever walk the Earth. This one was definitely a favorite amongst the audience that sank in their hearts as they described his life experience and his influence on the fans around him.
“Where did all those blue skies go?” the group sang, talking about the damage we’ve done to our planet and the sadness of what it’s become. Not only do these artists create entertainment for people, but they educate the world on what’s happening in real time.
After another short break, they went on to sing one of their classics “Greed.” They used some beautiful hand-crafted instruments to add to their acapella performance and this song specifically opens the eyes of those around them.
“Greed-driven man created slavery. Black men, women and children became somebody’s property … I’ve been trying to think about how to talk about greed,” Sweet Honey sang. The way they describe the damage greed has done to people and the world is empowering and deep. At this point, there were tears in the audience’s eyes about the truth and value behind the lyrics, something we don’t see quite a lot of in modern music.
Their vocals faded out at the end of that piece phenomenally, the audience was in a state of pure awe.
They didn’t know yet that it was going to get even more core-shaking from here.
“Oh, Sankofa” was one of the most compelling songs so far, discussing the experience of Black communities in Tulsa, Okla. on June 1, 1921 being killed by lynchings in Greenwood District.
“Hateful greed in so many hearts resembled life today. We must remember, perhaps forgive, but don’t forget, so we will not repeat the past, mistakes that we’ll regret. Oh, Sankofa. Remember the past,” Sweet Honey belted as they described the details of the Tulsa race massacre’s from beginning to end.
The audience could feel the anger and sadness in their voices as they described the horror of the incident, singing the history of the victims in the massacre, making sure they would never be forgotten.
There was not a dry eye in the house as everyone who listened felt for the beautiful lost souls who were taken from the earth too early. The final beautiful extended note by Casel — who’s known as “the doctor” for the “medicine she gives your mind” — allowed for a peaceful rest for those who would be remembered, as well as a way to help the audience let the rest of the message sink in.
“Hush, Hush, Somebody Is Calling My Name” was sung next, originally started by Rice with her deep vocals shaking the audience. Everyone was waiting for Rice to shine and with this song, she definitely did.
“I’m so glad trouble don’t last always … Oh my Lord, oh my Lord. What shall I do? I tell you sing it with me: Hush, hush, somebody is calling my name,” they sang together. This song was captivating, but the best part about this piece was the extension we saw in their vocals. In this song, the women’s voices really shone and lit up the audience with smiles as we felt the true force behind all of their voices combined.
Soon after the beginning, Sweet Honey got the audience clapping and singing along to the harmony of their songs. The moment the audience joined in on “Hush, Hush”, it was a wave of serotonin flowing through the veins of everyone in the Nightingale Concert Hall.
They sang “Redemption Song” after, which encouraged people to “emancipate [themselves] from mental slavery,” before leading into “Ella’s Song” which sings about freedom and never resting in the mission to keep all marginalized communities free across the nation.
That leads into “Are We a Nation?” which starts with the beginning of the reading of the preamble. The lyrics are talking about needing a nation to give everyone their deserved “justice and equality.” The meaning of this song is even more important for the audience to hear and understand seeing as the Black Lives Matter political movement that started in 2020 is still a powerful part of the world’s future and history.
The acapella group finished off with a jazzy, light-hearted and sweet song.
“Something for your spirit, something for your mind. Let the music take your body, leave your worries behind … What’s your flavor? … However you’re feeling, don’t be shy, be proud. Live it how you feel it and live it out loud!” the Honeys sing beautifully, capturing the audience with their beautiful smiles and wholesome hearts.
That’s when the audience got on their feet, yelling “I love you” to the women and gave Sweet Honey the well-deserved standing ovation. There was harmony and love in all the hearts of the performers and the hearts of the fans as the seven members held hands and bowed before blowing kisses to their audience to say goodbye.
Sweet Honey in the Rock’s whole message is to “make a little change with love” and bring beauty to the world once again. The beauty of this acapella group will continue to change lives of everyone around the world and show the world how to live and learn from our mistakes and continue to love everyone around us.
Thank you for showing us your truth, Sweet Honey in the Rock.
Featured photo by Louis Bubala.
Jaedyn Young can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @jaedyn_young3.