The Music of Sweet Honey in the Rock
A Cappella Singing Group Sweet Honey in the Rock
Sweet Honey in the Rock is the Grammy award-winning African American female a cappella ensemble founded in 1973 by, Bernice Johnson Reagon, who retired from the group in 2004.
The songs of Sweet Honey in the Rock focus on social justice, civil rights and the need for change, but also on their own experiences as women. Their music style incorporates elements of gospel music and spirituals, as well as more contemporary music styles and rhythms. Members compose most of their own music.
Currently there are five singing members. The sixth member is an American Sign Language interpreter who accompanies them in concert.
The first time I heard Sweet Honey in the Rock in concert was in 1977 or '78 while I was a grad student at the University of Michigan, living in a student housing co-op with a mixed group of social activist house-mates. A number of us went to that concert, and I was enthralled with their strong, beautiful voices and complex harmonies accompanying their messages of the need for social change.
I've included here a few YouTube videos of Sweet Honey in the Rock performing, and links for finding more of their music online.
Have you heard the music of Sweet Honey in the Rock?
Indaba: We Believe in You
I'm sharing with you my current favorite Sweet Honey in the Rock song first! That way, if you don't have time to watch and listen to the other videos, I hope you at least watch this one! It still gives me goose bumps when I listen to it.
The first time I heard was when I found this YouTube video by accident (I was looking for another piece of music song by Indaba: We Believe In YouVocalEssence, the chorus that is also featured on the video). I've watched it countless times now.
The song is of the elders talking to the children, telling them that they support them...that they believe in them. Words and music to this song are by Dr. Ysaye M. Barnwell, member of Sweet Honey in the Rock.
"Listen up, listen up young ones, listen up.....
God has sent us you beautiful young ones
In answer to our prayers
We will guide you through life's journey
You are the blessings that we all share"(Find all of the lyrics at Dr. Ysaye M. Barnwell | Song Lyrics)
We Believe in You! from Indaba
This is not the recording from the video, but of the original recording from Sweet Honey in the Rock.
Ella Baker, of the Civil Rights Movement
The words to Ella's Song are words that were spoken by activist Ella Baker, and put to music by Bernice Johnson Reagon, founder of Sweet Honey in the Rock.
Ella Baker, 1903 -- 1986, was a behind-the-scenes activist and Civil Rights Movement organizer. In the 1960s she was a strong advocate for young people and their involvement in the Civil Rights movement.
Read more on the website for the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights.
Ella's Song On YouTube
"We who believe in freedom can not rest,
We who believe in freedom can not rest until it comes
The older I get the better I know that the secret of my going on
Is when the reins are in the hand of the young who dare to run against the storm"
~ words of Ella Baker
Read the rest of the lyrics to Ella's Song on Bernice Johnson Reagon's lyrics page
The version here is also from the same VocalEssence concert as the video above of "We Believe in You".
Click Ella's Song alternate version to listen to a lovely, quieter version of this song on YouTube.
This is not the recording from the video shown here, but of the original recording by Sweet Honey in the Rock.
What's in a Name?
The name "Sweet Honey in the Rock" comes from Psalms 81:16
Sweet Honey in the Rock is sweet and nurturing, but also has an enduring strength and steadiness.
The Women Gather
Heart-breaking, but beautiful, powerful song on the senseless violent loss of loved ones. This is very relevant to events going on in our country and in the world today.
"The women gather crying
Tears that fill a million oceans
It doesn't matter where you're living
The women gather crying
Tears that fill a million oceans
It doesn't matter where you're livin'
The women gather crying"
Are We a Nation?
Sweet Honey in the Rock's response to the passage of Arizona's controversial immigration bill earlier this year, April 2010.
We need a nation, joined heart to hand
We need a nation where we understand
That we are a nation.
Come together, heed the call!
(Written lyrics are included in this video.)
Khalil Gibran's poem On Children put to music and sung by Sweet Honey in the Rock.
(Note this song ends halfway through the video....)
Khalil Gibran On Children
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.Read the rest of Khalil Gibran's On Children
There Were No Mirrors in My Nana's House
Light, sweet song.
There were no mirrors in my Nana's house,
no mirrors in my Nana's house.
And the beauty that I saw in everything
was in her eyes (like the rising of the sun).
Lyrics by Ysaye M. Barnwell, member of Sweet Honey in the Rock.
See full lyrics on Ysaye M. Barnwell Lyrics Page
Old Ship of Zion - Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon's last performance with Sweet Honey in the Rock
Founder Bernice Johnson Reagon retired from Sweet Honey in the Rock in 2004, after 30 years with the group. It was time to move on.
Here they're singing an encore number, "Old Ship of Zion".
Let There Be Peace
"Most people want the same thing...peace...
We don't always have to fight -- sometimes we can stand for peace."
Stand up for freedom,
Freedom til he come.
Stand up for freedom
Freedom til he come.
What is your favorite song on this page?
What was your favorite YouTube video featured here for Sweet Honey in the Rock?
Sweet Honey in the Rock in Concert
My husband and I had the wonderful opportunity to hear Sweet Honey in the Rock in concert at Hill Auditorium in Ann Arbor Michigan, on February 17, 2012. I was particularly thrilled because it had been a number of years since I've heard them in concert.
The only song from this page that they also sang in their concert was "Ella's Song", which was the encore.
The concert was very enjoyable, including 13 songs from the spiritual "I've Been 'Buked and I've Been Scorned" at the beginning, to "Ella's Song". A couple of interesting selections. My favorite was probably Nina Simone's "See Line Woman" (or Sea Lion, or Sielah -- apparently it's spelled a few different ways), sung by Ysaye Barnwell, as a "cautionary tale about fast living" (and she can move!).
Read More About Sweet Honey in the Rock
These are some of the sources I used for the information on this page.
- Sweet Honey In The Rock
Website of Sweet Honey in the Rock Includes audio.
- Bernice Johnson Reagon: songtalker
The official website for Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon: composer, musician, songtalker, scholar, performer, historian, teacher, producer, director, author, public speaker, activist. Founder of Sweet Honey in the Rock Includes audio.
- Dr. Ysaye M Barnwell & Barnwell's Notes, Inc, Barnwell's Notes Publishing
Dr. Ysaye M Barnwell is a member of Sweet Honey in the Rock. She is a singer, composer, arranger, teacher, researcher, and author. Includes audio.
- Sweet Honey in the Rock - About Sweet Honey in the Rock | American Masters
Sweet Honey In The Rock is uniquely distinct from all of these groups. She is even different from Mamie Forehand, though, like Forehand and these groups, she makes melody, harmony, rhythm and message.
- Sweet Honey in the Rock hits Hill tonight | The Michigan Daily
A group formed during an era of prominent social protests, Sweet Honey in the Rock makes music inspired by a belief in openly expressing the need for a more equal and unified world.
- Sweet Honey In The Rock womens vocal ensemble | www.Singers.com
Sweet Honey in the Rock - The acclaimed womens a cappella vocal ensemble
- Interview with Bernice Johnson Reagon in 2003
Bernice Johnson Reagon talks about her decision to leave Sweet Honey in the Rock after 30 years.