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Seven minutes with Sweet Honey


October 07, 2014

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    Coming to the PAC this Wednesday, Oct. 8, is a unique musical act made up of eclectic influences and drawing from many cultural backgrounds. Sweet Honey in the Rock brings music with a mission. One of its members, Carol Maillard, took a (very, very) quick break from the group's intense rehearsal schedule to talk to Connect about the basics of Sweet Honey in the Rock.

    Q: Tell us about Sweet Honey in the Rock.
    A: Well, Sweet Honey in the Rock is an a capella quartet that came into existence in 1973 in Washington, D.C. We were actors — and our vocal director Bernice Johnson Reagon — we were the four that finally ended up creating the group. There were other people who were involved in the early beginnings, you know, just rehearsing, coming up with material, men and women…, but then there was a rehearsal where only four people showed up. And that was Bernice, Louise Robinson, myself and a woman by the name of Mie.
    And we were Sweet Honey in the Rock together for maybe about a year, a year and a half we all stayed together. And when Mie left, we started having auditions to have another singer, and we ended up being a quintet. That was when it turned into five singers.
    We do a lot of different kinds of music. We do a capella music, we work with bands, we’ve sung with orchestras, but primarily the group is a capella, and the music we pull our repertoire from is very heavily rooted in African and African-American culture.

    Q: I kind of want to follow up on that. It seems like you guys have a mission behind the kind of music you choose and the kind of music you want to perform and show people. What is that mission?
    A: Well, first of all, we always want to pay homage and honor our ancestors and the people who came before us: our parents, people of different movements [like] the Civil Rights movement. People who made great strides in advancing the idea of freedom and justice and liberty, Civil Rights, human rights for all people. We embrace all of that — these traditions — and even the labor party and the labor movement. Just people being fair to one another and loving one another and being understanding — not just tolerant — and being understanding of one another.
    The Civil Rights movement really put music at the forefront as a way to bring people together. When things got really really difficult and hard and violent and crazy and wrong, it would empower people and bring them together as one voice to make change. But we also want to entertain people as well; we want it to be an entertaining experience. You’ll hear jazz, blues, traditional gospel, spirituals, African chants, love songs, children’s songs, rap and R&B flavors in the music that we do. We pull in our experience as black women and also as black Americans.

    Q: So what drew you to the group in the beginning?
    A: I was just happened to be in the room at the right time. I was just one of the singers who showed up at the rehearsal.
    Q: Does Sweet Honey write all of its music itself?
    A: Not all of it. We write a good part of it, but we also arrange other people’s music.
    Q: Have you done a lot of college shows? What is it like performing for a different audience?
    A: Absolutely. Well, it just depends. Some places, the college campus show sells out, maybe because the tickets are free or because they get a low discount. Very seldom do we know that a lot of college students came to the show. These people in the audiences can come from the community. Sometimes people come from out of town; they drive an hour or two, sometimes three, because Sweet Honey is in their general area. So it’s hard to say how a campus is different from a concert hall. Myself, personally, I don’t see the difference.
    Q:
What is your favorite part about performing with Sweet Honey in the Rock?
    A: I think watching the other ladies sing. It’s different every time they do something, and they really are great singers and fine performers. It’s enjoyable to watch them.

    There's still time to see Maillard and the other tremendous women behind Sweet Honey in the Rock in the Performing Arts Center on GSU's campus. Tickets are $10 for students with an Eagle ID and $28 for general admission. The doors open at
6:30 p.m. and the show starts at 7:30.

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