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November 11, 2004

Change good for Sweet Honey in the Rock

Cincinnati Post:

When a vocal group loses a key member, it can be a disruptive event for fans and the group itself. But in the case of Sweet Honey in the Rock, change is good. "We are very much about change," says Ysaye Barnwell, Sweet Honey musical director. "We understand anytime someone comes into the group they bring new musical influences. They bring their own passion about issues. So, change is a good thing."

Indeed, the change is significant for this glorious and joyous a cappella ensemble. Bernice Johnson Reagon, who founded Sweet Honey over 30 years ago, retired from the group last February. Added are two new singers, growing Sweet Honey from its traditional six-member ensemble to a septet. And, yes, Barnwell says, she hears the comment a lot that it takes two to replace the charismatic Reagon.

"People have been saying that, but it's not what happened," Barnwell said. "She is definitely a powerful force. But we have had 22 women in Sweet Honey, so we were used to people going and finding ways to bring a new person in. In no case have we said we are finding someone to replace so and so."

The two new members actually were already part of the Sweet Honey family. Louise Robinson was an original member who left and wanted to return. Arnae is a veteran singer who has been a main substitute in the group. "At the end of the auditions we said, 'We can't decide between these two people,'" Barnwell said. "So we brought in both and it's one of the best decisions we have made."

Barnwell says long-time fans will find a new energy to the group. "A lot of people are curious about whether they will miss Bernice on stage. What people will find are some newer and fresh arrangements of songs that we have been doing. They will find a very different energy. I feel we have a really brilliant ensemble and we are working together in some very different ways. It's given a nice new life."

Posted by acapnews at November 11, 2004 8:33 PM