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How Sweet It Is
Shannon Maughan -- 8/24/98
Sweet Honey in the Rock celebrates 25 years together and a book-and-CD release
The African American female a cappella quintet Sweet Honey in the Rock has been bringing its unique brand of music -- a blend of spiritual, blues and jazz -- to audiences around the world for a quarter of a century. The group has performed at numerous venues, including Carnegie Hall, and won a Grammy Award in 1989 for its musical tribute to legendary performers Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly. To mark the group's 25th anniversary, the women have just embarked on a year-long tour that will traverse the U.S. (with one performance in Canada) from this month through next July. Stops include several folk festivals and many colleges and universities.

But Sweet Honey in the Rock has something extra to celebrate, too. The lyrics to one of its songs, "No Mirrors in My Nana's House," penned by group member Ysaye M. Barnwell, was published as a picture book-with-CD package, illustrated by Synthia Saint James, and released this month from Harcourt Brace. The song/story focuses on a girl who sees life as reflected in her Nana's warm, loving eyes, rather than in the often harsh images of the real world. The theme is in keeping with the group's many songs about discovering the power of love, overcoming adversity and struggling for social justice

The group had its rather humble beginnings as a vocal workshop founded by Bernice Johnson Reagon in Washington, D.C., as part of the (now-defunct) D.C. Black Repertory Theater Company in 1973. Since then, more than 20 different members have come and gone, and as of 1980, all of the group's concerts are performed simultaneously by a sign-language interpreter (a practice inspired by Barnwell, who also has a Ph.D. in speech pathology).

No Mirrors in My Nana's House is not Sweet Honey in the Rock's first foray into the world of children's entertainment. The group has released several albums geared toward young people, and often performs at various children's festivals and events. Perhaps the group's best known children's recording is I Got Sh s (Music for Little People, 1994), which was widely praised at the time of its release and still sells well.

For tour date information, contact the Sweet Honey in the Rock booking office at (301) 549-4281.
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