LIVE: Sweet Honey in the Rock Celebrates 45 Years @ the Egg, 12/14/2019

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The a cappella Sweet Honey in the Rock is touring to celebrate their 45th anniversary as a group. They sang a set of music focusing on a holiday message of love and peace to “Celebrate the Holy-days” and empower us in the struggle for a just and peaceful world.

Of the founding members, only two remain: Louise Robinson and Carol Lynn Mailliard. Many singers have passed through the band’s 45 year history. The line up of singers for this Albany appearance included Aisha Kahlil, Nitanju Bolade Casel and Christie Dashiell. Along with the a cappella quintet, there is now a bassist (both acoustic and electric), Romaire Mendez. The group’s sound is now jazzier than what I remembered it to be 30 years ago, but still the message of freedom, hope and empowerment remain.

Although not a member of the group, Terry Ann Nash was very much part of the performance providing dramatic ASL translations to the lyrics. This is a Sweet Honey tradition assuring that all are empowered and hear their message.

The band dressed uniformally in red and black. They opened with the uplifting “We Are.” Holiday gospel music followed, including: “Children go where I Stand,” “Eight Days Later,” “Jesus, What a Wonderful Child” and Ain’t That Rockin.” To bring us to some of the grim realities of the real world, they performed “Ballad of Harry Moore”, a celebration of the life of a civil rights leader who was killed by a bomb in his home on Christmas in 1951.

The patented harmonies Sweet Honey are noted for were performed in a moving but somehow troubling version of ‘Silent Night” showing is not right.

Romaire Mendez was given some space to perform a solo on his acoustic bass.

Marvin Gaye’s hopeful “Wholy Holy” was performed with all the hope and soul that the late singer wrote into the song. The group scatted among each other in Zabba Du Bey, showing that they could perform this style of singing with ease. Further research on these singers’ backgrounds showed that some had a background in jazz and may performing in other projects before joining the group.

The set ended with a sing-along of “Let There Be Peace.” An appropriate ending for a holiday season concert.

Although the sound of the group has evolved and changed with the times and the members, the messages of love, peace and empowerment remain. We can take comfort in that.

Set List: We Are, Children Go Where I Send You, Eight Days Later, Jesus, What a Wonderful World, Ain’t that Rockin’, Harry Moore, Bedside, Silent Night, Give Love, (Bass Solo), Wholy Holy, Zaba Du Bey, Give Love, Living Waters, Let There Be Peace

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