Saturday January 16, 2016
From The Bluegrass Situation
COMMUNITY CENTER: SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK IN CONVERSATION WITH HEATHER MCENTIRE
By: Jewly Hight
Nobody makes a more joyful or dignified affair of that act of positioning than Sweet Honey in the Rock. A documentary shot a dozen-or-so years ago on the group’s 30th anniversary tour captures the grandness of the six women who comprised the lineup, at the time, striding out onto a theater stage, resplendent in boldly colored robes and headdresses, taking their seats in a semi-circle, and launching into one of their original a cappella spirituals, voices united in whirling, rippling conversation.
For more than four decades now, they’ve carried on African-American a cappella traditions without allowing themselves to become the least bit constricted by the forms; the new jack swing-ish groove beneath “A Prayer for the World,” a track on their new album, #LoveInEvolution, is hardly their first flirtation with contemporary instrumental accompaniment. Sweet Honey’s forged a musical identity capacious enough to celebrate a couple of centuries’ worth of Black innovation — from slave spirituals to Civil Rights anthems, from sanctified blues to quartet gospel, from folk to jazz, reggae to R&B, neo-soul to hip-hop — and to make room for the performing personalities and timely social and spiritual concerns of each of the 24 women who’ve passed through the group to date. Founding member Carol Maillard puts it this way: “We’re really an alive, living group. We’re always trying to find new ways to express. We’re not an oldies group.” What they are is something closer to a utopian singing community.
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