While the 2009 invitation to perform at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in the nation’s capitol was certainly a highlight of their existence, Sweet Honey in the Rock is poised for even more as they celebrate the fourth decade of smooth a capella harmonies delivered by the six African-American women.
Although they knew that the president’s late mother was a fan of the group and that he and his wife are also fans, Maillard said the group was “really surprised,” when they got the invitation to perform.
South Florida fans can catch the ensemble when they appear at the Miramar Cultural Arts Center on Jan. 25 and the South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center on Jan. 26 as a part of their 2013 tour, which also includes stops in Kansas, Massachusetts and North Carolina.
Referred to as “a national treasure,” by First Lady Michelle Obama, the group is comprised of Maillard, Aisha Kahlil, her sister Nitanju Bolande Casel, Louise Robinson, Ysaye M. Barnwell and Shirley Childress Saxton, who provides sign language interpretations of the group’s performances.
The ensemble founded in 1973 at the D.C. Black Repertory Theater Company has been wowing audiences the world over with a repertoire founded in spiritual and gospel music that includes the rich, empowering messages of the civil rights movement, as well as entreaties for humanity to respect each other and Mother Earth.
“We really enjoyed singing together and it appeared that we had something really unique going,” Maillard said of the early days. “We really were just trying to get from one day to the next.”
Maillard said that over the nearly 40 years that the group has been together, 23 different women have comprised Sweet Honey. Their longevity and personnel changes have not affected the group’s intention, which is to continue providing great socially and politically conscious music that inspires and empowers.
As the group moves into its fourth decade, Maillard said that there is still much to achieve. “We’re not big, multi-millionaire artists with gold records…there is a lot more for us to accomplish in terms of the kinds of music that we do, the people that we are enabled to work with, including talented producers,” she said.
“I think that there might be some producers out there that could take our sound and enhance it. The producer brings out things often that the artist didn’t know that they could do. We’re working from an internal source of creativity” that someone else listening could take to a different level, she explained.
Collaborating with artists such as Dianne Reeves, who is a fan, and newcomer Jonelle Monae are opportunities the group would welcome, Maillard said, however the ultimate collaboration would be with neo-soul songstress, Jill Scott.
“Jill Scott, her voice is almost a perfect match with Sweet Honey’s, in terms of the power in her voice, the variations, and what she is able to achieve. She writes, she raps. She talks about women, she talks about life and love.”
To celebrate its 40th year and in time for Women’s History Month in March, the group is releasing a new double CD of a concert that was recorded live with a jazz trio at New York’s Lincoln Center.
“We’re still evolving,” Maillard added. “We’re not 40 and fierce and sitting still. We’re going to be 40 and fierce and looking into the future. Where do we go now? How do we express who Sweet Honey is? The possibilities are endless.” Renee Michelle Hollinger may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information about Sweet Honey in the Rock, like their Facebook page, follow on Twitter @Shoney73 and visit sweethoney.com