Sweet Honey in the Rock lend voices for economic relief

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Aisha Kahlil is happy that fans are inspired by and enjoy Sweet Honey in the Rock’s music.

“The force of healing is something that we want in our music. There’s nothing more powerful than that and hopefully we can get that in the hearts and minds of the people,” said Kahlil, who lives in Maryland. She has been a member of the group for more than 10 years.

SweetHoney
SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK

Sweet Honey in the Rock lent their beautiful music to a two-day concert held at the Byham Theater Sept. 12-13 to combat economic disparity. Proceeds from the concerts were split between three charities: The Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, The Mon Valley Unemployment Committee and a group of displaced Jamaican workers who earn the majority of their money through tourism, an industry that has taken a severe hit since the recession.

“We were contacted and we said sure because the concert was for a good cause,” Kahlil said.

All three charities were glad that the group decided to lend their voices to the crusade.

“Things like this are very important,” said Barney Oursler, Mon Valley’s Unemployment committee co-director. “We’ve been around since the 198’s and this is the largest wave of unemployment we’ve seen.”

“We are delighted and surprised,” said Iris Valanti, director of communications for the Greater Pittsburgh Food Bank. “We can’t do it all with our two hands and this seems like good music and a good time for Pittsburgh.”

Sweet Honey in the Rock was founded by Bernice Johnson Reagon in 1973. Members came from a group of singers in a vocal workshop that she was teaching with the Washington, D.C., Black Repertory Co. Reagon retired from the internationally renowned African-American a cappella group in 2004.

The name for the group was garnered from a scripture in Psalms 81:16, which speaks of a land so rich that when rocks were cracked open, honey flowed from them.

The group released its self-titled debut album in 1976. “B’lieve I’ll Run On” was released two years later. The 1980s found them releasing an album almost every year. “Good News” was released in 1981; “We All…Everyone of Us” came out in 1983; “Feel Something Drawing Me On” and “The Other Side were both released in 1985. “Breaths” was released in 1988 as was “Live at Carnegie Hall.” “All For Freedom” was released in 1989.

The group took a three-year hiatus before releasing “In This Land” in 1992. The group was “Still On The Journey” in 1993. They have consistently released breathtakingly beautiful music each year since.

Sweet Honey in the Rock won Grammy Awards in 2000 and 2008, respectfully, for Best Musical Album For Children, “Experience…101” last year and “Still the Same Me,” in 2000.

The history of the music and the tradition of the group are some of the reasons why Khalil joined the group.

“I had come from New York to perform with another group and that tour fell through and I was working at a restaurant and Bernice, the founder, asked me to audition for the group. I said sure and I auditioned. I didn’t know she knew I was a vocalist,” Khalil said.

Being an entertainer was a dream of Khalil’s since she was a little girl. She sang in her church choir and in various programs and plays in high school before earning a scholarship to college where she studied theater arts.

“I never had a backup plan,” Khalil said. “I knew I had to take care of myself and I knew I could sing and dance. I never did anything else.”

Since its creation, more than 20 singers have lent their voices to Sweet Honey in the Rock. It began as a quartet and is now comprised of six African-American women and an American sign language interpreter.

Despite the changes, the sweet music remained the same.

“There has been a shift in members and the music shifts depending on who’s writing it. We aren’t trying to compete for someone’s ear. We try to write the same music that we hear in our hearts and we put it out there for listeners. All we can do is sing the music we like to sing,” Khalil said.

Khalil will be releasing her debut solo project, a jazzy, world-themed record next month. She is also working on the next Sweet Honey in the Rock CD.

“Performing is what I always wanted to do. I’m in my element when I perform. It’s like water to me. I love to perform and I like giving that to the audience,” she said.

When she isn’t dazzling audiences with her voice, Khalil enjoys swimming, dancing, hiking and watching movies.

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