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Sweet Honey In The Rock: Forty and Fierce

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Friday January 31, 2014

From The San Jose Mercury News

Sweet Honey in the Rock celebrates 40th anniversary with Berkeley show
By: Lou Fancher

Popping the cork to celebrate 40 years of soulful a cappella singing, Sweet Honey in the Rock launches its “Forty and Fierce” tour at Cal Performances’ Zellerbach Hall on Wednesday.

With a long history of performing in Berkeley, the African-American all-woman ensemble breaks free of its songbirds-in-a-semicircle performance configuration. Thanks to a spirit of adventure and a successful Indiegogo fundraising campaign, Wednesday’s show features not only the group’s marinated-in-melody voices but multimedia, movement and spoken-word memoirs as well.

The ensemble began carrying its “strong like a rock, but inside (there’s) honey” message (a quote taken from the Bible from original member Louise Robinson, who is still in the ensemble), in 1973. Founder Bernice Johnson Reagon enlisted Carol Maillard (also still a member), Robinson and Mie in the original quartet that expressed its political and social activist beliefs through the sweet filter of blues, African, jazz, gospel and R&B music.

Twenty-three women have been a part of the group, which has fluctuated from four to six members but has never deviated from its core values of human rights, love, gratitude and courage. Since 1981, sign language interpreter Shirley Childress Saxton has toppled additional barriers, with poignant, onstage interpretations allowing the hearing-impaired community to share in Sweet Honey in the Rock’s conversation. Original members Maillard and Robinson are joined on the tour by Saxton, Aisha Kahlil, Nitanju Bolade Casel and special invited guest artists.

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