Internationally Acclaimed A Cappella Group Celebrates Fifth Decade with First New Studio CD in Nine Years!
GRAMMY-nominated ensemble’s ongoing mission is to Entertain, Empower, Educate!
SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK has been one of the most resilient and longstanding female ensembles in the history of contemporary music. Since the Washington, D.C.-based collective’s formation in 1973, they are also one of the elite vanguard of a cappella artists that have endured and kept the genre alive to witness its current resurgence and popularity among younger artists like Pentatonix and hit film franchise, “Pitch Perfect.” On their new and 24th album, #LoveInEvolution, the four “core” vocalists continue expand the power of unaccompanied voices and intertwine and experiment with their patented mixture of soul, jazz, blues, spirituals, folk, and African chants.
In maintaining their rich and ongoing legacy, the group was one of the first artists to perform at the White House at the request of President and Mrs. Obama during his first 100 days in office, toured in Europe, Australia and Africa, and over the past year served as artistic ambassadors and performed mini-tours and community outreach for US Embassies based in Ethiopia, Peru, Jamaica, Swaziland and Belize.
The overall theme of the fourteen songs on #LoveInEvolution is hardly concealed. There are exuberant calls to enjoy life’s bright moments amidst its chaos (the group-written single, “IDK, But I’m LOL!”), SWEET HONEY’s celebration of its own longevity (the joyous “Sweet Sweet Honey”), the soothing “This Place Inside Where I Can Rest”). But to confront the urgent, ongoing need for societal and environment peace, the group looks life in the eye on fervent, heartbreaking original compositions such as “Second Line Blues” and “OH, Sankofa,” rollcalls of race-related riots and their victims). The traditional gospel song, “I Don’t Want No Trouble at the River,” dedicated here to the nine murdered victims of a hate crime at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., in June 2015, is infused with a poem by the late Dr. Maya Angelou, “When Great Trees Fall,” which reminds us that, after great spirits pass, “we can be, and be better, for they existed.” Marvin Gaye’s landmark 1971 album, What’s Going On, is the source of both “Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)” and “Wholy Holy,” twin messages of the need for universal consciousness, supplementing group member Aisha Kahlil’s “The Living Waters” (“Who killed the . . ?”).
Appropriately, #LoveInEvolution documents a group in constant but harmonious evolution. This CD, their third for Appleseed, is their first as a quartet since founder-member Dr. Ysaye Maria Barnwell retired in 2014, preceded by fellow founder Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon, who left in 2004. The two remaining original members are Louise Robinson and Carol Maillard; the relative “newbies” are Aisha Kahlil, who joined in 1981, and her sister, Nitanju Bolade Casel, a member since 1985 who has also produced the group’s recent records. Shirley Childress, an American sign language interpreter, has been performing with the singers since 1981. Over the past 40 years, the ensemble’s resilient spirit has been embodied and carried by twenty four members.
As always, SWEET HONEY’s members accompany themselves on the CD on hand- and body-percussion, which they have done from their very first album. In 2011, their previous album on Appleseed, SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK...A TRIBUTE, LIVE! JAZZ AT LINCOLN CENTER : featured a contemporary jazz trio, and after Dr. Barnwell retired, instead of adding another member, they alternated by featuring either a guest vocalist or an acoustic and electric bassist on their live performances. This trend is continuing with bassist Romeir Mendez, who plays on much of the album and will perform with the group on their 2015-16 winter season including their February 11th date at Carnegie Hall in NYC.