Sweet Honey In The Rock Celebrates 30th Year

Excerpted from the magazine for Billboard.com.

In a return to a label that previously released five Sweet Honey in the Rock albums, Rhino-distributed Earthbeat! Records on Jan. 28 issued the venerable African-American female a cappella group's 30th-anniversary album, "The Women Gather."

The set is further distinguished by its producer -- and writer of three of its songs -- Toshi Reagon, also daughter of Sweet Honey founder Bernice Johnson Reagon.

"She's assisted me on some projects, but in this case I assisted her," says Bernice Johnson Reagon, singling out the album's title track, which was written by the group's other founding member, Carol Maillard. "I listen to the recording and I know I wouldn't have pulled off the particular mix and environment that Toshi got out of it."

Reagon formed Sweet Honey in the Rock in 1973 after serving in the original Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee Freedom Singers -- the historic African-American vocal group that emerged during the '60s civil rights movement. Sweet Honey -- which also includes Ysaye Maria Barnwell, Aisha Kahlil, Nitanju Bolade Casel, and sign-language interpreter Shirley Childress Saxton -- has since gained a worldwide following for its unaccompanied performance of all-inclusive African-American music styles, including blues, ballads, hymns, spirituals, and rap.

Reagon says that touring in support of "The Women Gather" will include 12 special concert productions incorporating Toshi Reagon and her band. The group currently has tour dates stretching from February through April. For more information, visit the group's official Web site.

"She was 9 years old when I started Sweet Honey, so it's a cross-generational show spanning three decades," Reagon says, admitting "awe and pride" at reaching her group's milestone year. She adds, "The years just unfold when you really keep your focus on your work."

Excerpted from the Feb. 15, 2003, issue of Billboard. The full original text of the article is available in the Billboard.com members section.

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