Strathmore Presents Sweet Honey in the Rock (Video)

A capella ensemble Sweet Honey in the Rock perform March 1 at 8 p.m. at the Music Center at Strathmore, 5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda. The group celebrates 40 years together with their “Forty and Fierce” program that includes a collection of songs both old and new rooted in the African American history and culture. Current members Carol Maillard and Louise Robinson, both founding members, as well as Aisha Kahlil, Nitanju Bolade Casel and on-stage sing language interpreter Shirley Childress will pay homage to the 23 vocalists who have been members of the group since it first began during a workshop in 1973.

Sweet Honey in the Rock formed as a quartet at a workshop at the D.C. Black Repertory Theater Company. Original members drew their name from the first song they learned, “Sweet Honey in the Rock,” based on a Biblical psalm. In their 40 year history, the members have created diverse mixtures of blues, African, jazz, gospel and R&B music, with excursions into symphonic and dance theater.

Sweet Honey began performing in 1974 and was soon appearing at various festivals in the U.S. and Canada, including the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. The group released its first album in 1976.

Political and social activism are as much a cornerstone Sweet Honey as its multi-genre vocals, inspired by Sweet Honey’s founder Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon. She first became aware of the political power of song while in jail in 1961 for her participation in a civil rights march in Albany, GA. After her release, she became a member of the original Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee Freedom Singers and a leader in the ’60s civil rights movement, traveling the country spreading its songs and message.

Sweet Honey’s list of musical and activist achievements is ever-growing. They 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; 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 at the Kennedy Center in 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 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.

In June 2012, Sweet Honey co-wrote and released on their own SHE ROCKS-5 label the single and video, “Are We a Nation,” inspired by the controversial immigration law enacted in Arizona in 2010. The song captured a Gold Songwriter Award from the 27th Mid-Atlantic Song Contest and was featured on the all-star compilation, Bordersongs, that raised money for the No More Deaths organization, which provides water and humanitarian aid along the Arizona/Mexico border.

Tickets are $29 – $70 and may be purchased by calling 301.581.5100 or online at the Strathmore website.

Sweet Honey in the Rock performing “Let There Be Peace”

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