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Sweet Honey brings vocal prowess, rich harmonies to songs for a better world

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – The internationally renowned women’s a cappella ensemble Sweet Honey In The Rock comes to Bethel College’s Memorial Hall stage as the third concert in the 2012-13 Hesston-Bethel Performing Arts series.

The group appears Feb. 2 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are currently on sale weekdays at both Bethel and Hesston Colleges.

Since Bernice Johnson Reagon founded Sweet Honey In The Rock in 1973 (along with Mie, Carol Maillard and Louise Robinson) at the D.C. Black Repertory Theater Company, this ensemble has been a vital and innovative presence in the music culture of Washington, D.C., and in communities of conscience around the world.

The name comes from Psalm 81:16’s promise to a people of being fed with honey out of the rock. Honey is an ancient substance, sweet and nurturing, while rock has an elemental strength that endures the winds of time.

The metaphor of sweet honey in the rock captures these African-American women and their repertoire steeped in the sacred music of the Black church, the clarion calls of the civil rights movement and songs of the struggle for justice everywhere.

Rooted in a deeply held commitment to create music out of the rich textures of African-American legacy and traditions, Sweet Honey In The Rock is known for a stunning vocal prowess that captures the complex sounds of blues, spirituals, traditional gospel hymns, rap, reggae, African chants, hip hop, ancient lullabies and jazz improvisation.

Sweet Honey’s collective voice, occasionally accompanied by hand percussion instruments, produces a sound filled with soulful harmonies and intricate rhythms.

In nearly 40 years of existence, Sweet Honey In The Rock has brought music to communities across the United States and around the world with a voice of hope, love, justice, peace and resistance. Sweet Honey invites audiences to open their minds and hearts and think about who we are and how we treat each other, our fellow creatures who share this planet and, of course, the planet itself.

Sweet Honey’s 20th CD, Experience…101, received a 2008 Grammy® Award nomination. Sweet Honey was then asked to compose new material to celebrate the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater’s 50th anniversary.

These two artistic treasures of the African-American experience performed a once-in-a-lifetime collaboration throughout the United States, with the music released on Sweet Honey’s most recent CD, Go in Grace.

Sweet Honey was honored to accept an invitation from President and Mrs. Obama to give a concert at the White House Feb. 18, 2009.  In 2010, the group created a tribute concert, “Remembering Nina, Odetta and Miriam Makeba,” performed several times during the 2011-12 season.

In April 2012, Sweet Honey premiered its first-ever orchestral collaboration, Symphony 10: Affirmations for a New World, in performances with the National Symphony Orchestra and the Minnesota Orchestra. William Banfield wrote the music and Sweet Honey members the lyrics.

Last May, Chicago Theological Seminary presented the members of Sweet Honey with Honorary Doctor of Letters degrees, given to those whom have, in their work and in their lives, embodied the seminary’s core value of “transformative leadership toward greater justice and mercy in church and society.”

In addition to Maillard and Robinson (Reagon retired from the group in 2004), Sweet Honey In The Rock members are Ysaye Maria Barnwell, Nitanju Bolade Casel, Aisha Kahlil and Shirley Childress Saxton (sign language interpreter).

Single tickets for Sweet Honey In The Rock at Bethel College are $27 or $23, with discounts available for students and senior citizens.

For more information or to purchase tickets, call 620-327-8158 (Hesston College) or 316-284-5205 (Bethel College) or visit the HBPA website at

HBPA is funded in part by  the cities of Hesston and North Newton,  Excel Industries and Hustler Turf Equipment (Hesston), and area patrons.

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