Sweet Honey's repertoire covers broad range of music

September 03, 1998|By Nathan Humphrey | Nathan Humphrey,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Sweet Honey in the Rock, the Grammy Award-winning African-American women's a cappella group, gave a concert at the Ram's Head Tavern in Annapolis on Sunday night that lifted the heart, challenged the mind and strengthened the soul.

The group's music embodies a range of African and African-American musical traditions: folk songs and chants, spirituals, gospel, blues, rap, jazz -- even a little bit of reggae, with Bob Marley's "Redemption Song" thrown into the mix.

This group is unusual. Sweet Honey in the Rock has made its concerts accessible to the deaf through Shirley Childress Johnson, a sign language interpreter. Johnson's hands sang as artfully as the voices she interpreted and added a dimension of rhythm and movement blending perfectly with the fluidity of Sweet Honey's sound.

The concert began with the distinctly African sounds of the Senegalese poem "Breaths," followed by "Fulani Chant." The group appeared on stage in brightly colored traditional African garb, which, combined with vocal stylings of breezes and flowing water, high trilling birdcalls and chants, give the impressions of a sunset over grasslands.

The group blended a little of that old-time religion with a very modern social conscience, singing "I Was Standing by the Bedside of a Neighbor," by Thomas A. Dorsey, the father of gospel music, and weaving in songs about contemporary issues, such as "We Who Believe in Freedom Cannot Rest."

In a sermonette, Bernice Johnson Reagon, the founder of Sweet Honey, belted out "Greed is sneaky/Hard to detect in myself/I see it so clearly in everybody else," which elicited knowing looks and laughter from the audience.

Other performances demonstrating Sweet Honey's musical message included "Run," about domestic violence, and "Would You Harbor Me?" using the imagery of the Underground Railroad to challenge the audience on bigotry in all its forms.

Finally, the group sang "Patchwork Quilt," by Michelle Lanchester, a moving tribute to those commemorate by the AIDS quilt.

The Washington-based group has scheduled a 25th-anniversary concert at 8 p.m. Nov. 21 at the Warner Theater in Washington. Fans also can catch Honey on Sept. 12 at the Baltimore Convention Center.

Information: 301-549-4281.

Pub Date: 9/03/98

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