Not Your Mother's Racial Uplift: Sweet Honey in the Rock, Journey, and Representation: Sweet Honey in the Rock: Raise Your Voice

By Hayes, Eileen M. | Women & Music, Annual 2006 | Go to article overview

Not Your Mother's Racial Uplift: Sweet Honey in the Rock, Journey, and Representation: Sweet Honey in the Rock: Raise Your Voice


Hayes, Eileen M., Women & Music


Not Your Mother's Racial Uplift: Sweet Honey in the Rock, Journey, and Representation: Sweet Honey in the Rock: Raise Your Voice. Produced and directed by Stanley Nelson. New York: Thirteen/WNET, 2005. Videodisc (84 mins.).

FOR THE PAST THREE DECADES THE MUSIC of Sweet Honey in the Rock (SHIR) has provided the soundtrack for many a middle-aged feminist life, black or otherwise. For social change activists such as myself at work during the 1980s and early 1990s attendance at the annual or biannual Sweet Honey event meant you had survived the psychic effects of cutbacks in spending for social programs, ongoing threats to reproductive rights, and unrelenting attacks on the poor. With sufficient energy and discretionary funds in reserve you could find collective validation of your efforts at a local SHIR concert. Stanley Nelson's Sweet Honey in the Rock: Raise Your Voice documents the thirtieth-anniversary tour of this acclaimed African American women's a cappella quintet. (1) Founded by Bernice Johnson Reagon in 1973, the ensemble's eclectic repertoire features politically concerned songtexts cast in traditional gospel, blues, and spirituals with occasional forays into rap (especially effective at children's concerts) and the music of West Africa. (2)

Rather than addressing only the documentary at hand, in this essay I read the film as an intertextual artifact and refer to analyses by black feminist scholars and the scholarly literature about the ensemble, including the writings of Reagon. In particular, I have found the work of political philosopher Joy James useful in my attempt to situate SHIR in relation to black feminisms. If combined with the writings of Reagon, James, Darlene Clark Hines, and others, the film would work quite effectively in teaching contexts.

Although not a concert film per se, Sweet Honey in the Rock: Raise Your Voice juxtaposes clips of SHIR rehearsals and performances with reflections by ensemble members. Reagon, the recipient of a MacArthur "genius" award, is featured along with other members of the ensemble: founding member Carol Maillard, Aisha Kahill, Nitanju Bolade Casel, Dr. Ysaye Maria Barnwell, and sign language interpreter Shirley Childress Saxton. (3) Gospel music scholar Horace Clarence Boyer, ethnomusicologist Kyra Gaunt, photographer Sharon Farmer, radio show producers Dred Scot-Keys and Kojo Nnamdi, American Symphony Orchestra director Leon Bolstein, and black performance artist Aku Kadogo address various aspects of SHIR'S long memory of black music performance and activism and the organization's significance as a national institution. (4) In the late 1980s and early 1990S scholars from across disciplines invoked "voice" as a metaphor for vocality, cultural agency, political autonomy, and both individual and collective power. These referents resound in Nelson's film; Sweet Honey's commitment to social change is evident in Casel's assertion that the group sings "a cappella style with a political ring." In a montage of concerts and interviews filmed in New York, New Jersey, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, Washington DC, Los Angeles, and Seattle director Stanley Nelson structures the film to skillfully naturalize cinematic techniques so that the subject appears more "real." (5)

Like Reagon, Nelson is also a MacArthur Fellow. Highly respected for his earlier documentaries on African American historical subjects, Nelson, who is white, brings a historian's eye for detail to his project. (6) Under Nelson's direction black-and-white still photographs function like program notes to some of the more popular songs in the ensemble's repertoire and thus make the film a valuable multimedia resource for classroom use. Nelson places topical songs in historical context through the judicious incorporation of archival footage that signposts black southern civil rights activism from the 1930s to the present. Clips of SHIR'S performance of "We Who Believe in Freedom" are highlighted with photos of black civil rights activist Ella Baker and the slain student workers Andrew Goodman, James Chaney, and Michael Schwerner, whose murders she deplored. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Not Your Mother's Racial Uplift: Sweet Honey in the Rock, Journey, and Representation: Sweet Honey in the Rock: Raise Your Voice
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.