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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin.

And we've moved our operation from Studio 4B - our usual home at NPR in Washington - to Studio 4A, and it's a packed house here to welcome the seminal singing group, Sweet Honey in the Rock.

(Soundbite of applause)

MARTIN: For the past three decades, Sweet Honey in the Rock has provided the soundtrack for many women's lives. Group member Carol Maillard may have described that soundtrack best when she said it's a rhythm, a new riff, a mad dance, swirling melodies, history remembered and reborn, a baby's cry, the elders in prayer, the first mother, all colors, all textures of skin and hair. It's life. It's Sweet Honey in the Rock.

So, what's there left to do after 34 years of making music? Their answer: pass on the knowledge.

Sweet Honey are just out with a album called "Experience 101." It's aimed at young people, and it's filled with songs that share some basic life lessons. So, let's meet the ladies of Sweet Honey in the Rock. Ladies, would you mind introducing yourselves?

Ms. AISHA KAHLIL (Singer, Sweet Honey in the Rock): I'm Aisha.

Ms. LOUISE ROBINSON (Singer, Sweet Honey in the Rock): Louise Robinson.

Ms. YSAYE MARIA BARNWELL (Singer, Sweet Honey in the Rock): Ysaye Maria Barnwell.

Ms. NITANJU BOLADE CASEL (Singer, Sweet Honey in the Rock): Nitanju Bolade Casel.

Ms. CAROL LYNN MAILLARD (Singer, Sweet Honey in the Rock): Carol Maillard.

MARTIN: Welcome to each of you.

(Soundbite of applause)

MARTIN: Sweet Honey was founded by singer and civil rights advocate Bernice Johnson Reagon. So, Louise, will you remind us what brought you together? What was your purpose?

Ms. ROBINSON: We came out of a theater company, the D.C. Black Repertory Theater in Washington, D.C. And we had to be trained in acting and dance and voice. And, actually, someone else had an idea of forming a large group. And we started as a group of about 30 people, an ensemble. And as time went on, people - men and women, both men and women. As time went on, people didn't show up. And one day, there were four women left on the stage. And we decided we would continue. We would sing. And we began to put the songs on the stage from our experience. And then we named it Sweet Honey in the Rock. (unintelligible)

MARTIN: Where did the name come from?

Ms. ROBINSON: A parable in the Bible that speaks of a land that's so rich that when you break the rocks open, honey flows. And we thought it was something like us African-American women - you know, strong like a rock, but inside, honey, sweet.

Ms. BARNWELL: And adaptable. You know how honey is. When it's cold, that honey stiffens up, and when it's warm, it's fluid, but it never loses its sweetness.

Ms. ROBINSON: Exactly.

MARTIN: Ysaye, now, where did the a capella tradition come from? Was that the original intention? Was it because you don't know how to play instruments or…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BARNWELL: Actually, there are quite a few instrumentalists here. We all play something. But since I wasn't there, I'll let either Louise or Carol…

Ms. MAILLARD: I'll go. This is Carol. And what happened was with the theater company that we were involved in, the D.C. Black Repertory Company, the artistic director wanted all of the music that was accompanying our stage productions to really have a honest and true feel. So sometimes, we were the wind. We could be rocks breaking and opening. We were volcanoes. We were birds. We were forests.

And he hired Bernice - Bernice was the person that was the vocal director for the D.C. Black Rep, and she gave us all of these very interesting ways of expressing our theatrical productions through sound and voice.

And also, Bernice was a part of the civil rights movement. So, most of the music that was being done was a capella. It was music being raised at a rally, music being raised at a protest, music being raised just to bring people's souls together. And that was using the power of the human voice.

MARTIN: I think one of the things that distinguishes the group that I think people immediately notice, however they've experienced the group, whether it's through a CD or through a live performance, is the versatility of sound and musical influence. Where do your musical influences come from?

Ms. MAILLARD: I think they come from a wide variety of sources. I'd say, particularly, the sacred tradition of African-American people, our history in this country from field hollers to chants, spirituals - all of that music influences Sweet Honey in the Rock.

And then we have a lot of modern influences. We take the whole panorama, that wide Diaspora of music that comes from the African continent through South America, through the Caribbean, through the United States, Canada, wherever. We use that music to fuel the music that we create and the music we pull in from the past in order to express Sweet Honey in the Rock.

MARTIN: Your music, in general, but on this album in particular, goes back to the idea of teaching through oral history. What lessons do you think there might be in oral history that don't always translate in a book? Anyone want to take that?

Ms. BARNWELL: I will.

MARTIN: Ysaye.

Ms. BARNWELL: I think that it's one thing to read words on a page. It's another thing to have someone tell you a story. And it's a deeper thing to have someone sing that story to you, because it reaches the brain and the body on many, many levels. And so, on this CD, we really wanted to use music as a context for sharing a number of different things that we felt were really important, particularly for young people to know.

MARTIN: What are some of the things that led you to think that? There were some - a reason that right now you felt that you particularly wanted to speak to young people.

Ms. CASEL: I think we always…

MARTIN: Nitanju.

Ms. CASEL: …want to speak to young people, just like Bernice wrote in Ella's song. We believe, using the words of Ella Baker, young people come first. They have the courage where we fail. And we look at the youth of today and feel a stronger sense of direction, foundation, a ground upon which to stand. We're all mothers and aunties and grandmothers and godmothers. And in looking at our youth, we understand that they are - our youth are all of the youth, all over the world.

I have a 13 year old. So I'm very keen of what's going on with the teenage world, you know, with computer games and, you're always - you know…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. CASEL: You're like this, you know? We want to get back to some of those really basic things in life, the kindness that, if you smile at someone, it actually might get you a smile back.

MARTIN: Well, speaking of getting a smile, I know you'll put a smile on our faces if you'll share a song with us. We'd love to hear "Do What the Spirit Say."

Ms. BARNWELL: Okay. Can I tell you a little bit about it?

MARTIN: Please do, Ysaye.

Ms. BARNWELL: Okay. It actually is based on a spiritual, but it's totally re-arranged. And I've put some new words because I want young people to know that there are models for things that they try to do. And so, these are names of some people who have done some things before these young people try them. Ready?

(Soundbite of song, "Do What the Spirit Say")

Ms. BARNWELL: (Singing) Children, I'm gonna do what the Spirits say do.

SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK (Singing Group): (Singing) Do children do.

Ms. BARNWELL: (Singing) I'm gonna do what the Spirit say do.

SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK: (Singing) Do children do.

Ms. BARNWELL: (Singing) I'm gonna do what the Spirit say do, my Lord and, obey the Spirit of the Lord.

SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK: (Singing) Do what the Spirit say.

Ms. BARNWELL: (Singing) I'm gonna walk when the Spirit say, walk.

SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK: (Singing) Walk, children, walk.

Ms. BARNWELL: (Singing) I'm gonna walk when the Spirits say, walk.

SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK: (Singing) Walk, children, walk.

Ms. BARNWELL: (Singing) I'm gonna walk like John walked into Jerusalem and walk all around the town.

SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK: (Singing) Do what the Spirit say.

Ms. BARNWELL: (Singing) And then I'm gonna shout when the Spirit say shout out louder.

SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK: (Singing) Shout children.

Ms. BARNWELL: (Singing) I'm gonna shout when the Spirit say, shout.

SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK: (Singing) Shout, children, shout.

Ms. BARNWELL: (Singing) I'm gonna shout like the children at the battle of Jericho. Shout till the walls come down.

SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK: (Singing) Do what the Spirit say.

Ms. BARNWELL: (Singing) And then, I'm gonna read when the Spirit say, read.

SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK: (Singing) Read, children, read.

Ms. BARNWELL: (Singing) Read. I'll read when the Spirit say, read…

SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK: (Singing) Read, children, read.

Ms. BARNWELL: (Singing) …the things of August Wilson and Zora Neale Hurston, gonna sit out and read and read and read.

SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK: (Singing) Do what the Spirit say.

Ms. BARNWELL: (Singing) And then I'm gonna sing when the Spirit say sing.

Ms. MAILLARD: (Singing) (Singing) Raise your voices loud.

SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK: (Singing) Sing, children, sing.

Ms. BARNWELL: (Singing) I'm gonna sing when the Spirit say, sing.

SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK: (Singing) Sing, children, sing.

Ms. BARNWELL: (Singing) Like Paul Robeson and Aretha Franklin, I'll sing.

SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK: (Singing) Do what the Spirit say.

Ms. BARNWELL: (Singing) And then dance when the Spirit say, dance.

SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK: (Singing) Dance, children, dance.

Ms. BARNWELL: (Singing) I'm gonna dance when the Spirit say, dance.

SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK: (Singing) Dance, children, dance.

Ms. BARNWELL: (Singing) Like Judith Jameson and Baba Chuck Davis, gonna dance…

SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK: (Singing) Dance.

Ms. BARNWELL: (Singing) Dance, dance, dance, dance.

SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK: (Singing) Do what the Spirit say.

Ms. BARNWELL: (Singing) And then, I'm gonna speak when the Spirit say, speak out loud.

SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK: (Singing) Speak, children, speak.

Ms. BARNWELL: (Singing) I'll speak when the Spirit say, speak.

SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK: (Singing) Speak, children, speak.

Ms. MAILLARD: (Singing) Come on. Come on.

Ms. BARNWELL: (Singing) Like Sojourner Truth and Dr. Martin Luther King, I'm gonna speak Lord, speak Lord.

SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK: (Singing) Do what the Spirit say.

Ms. BARNWELL: (Singing) And then, I'm gonna sit when the Spirit say, sit.

SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK: (Singing) Sit, children, sit.

Ms. BARNWELL: (Singing) I'm gonna sit when the Spirit say, sit.

SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK: (Singing) Sit, children, sit.

Ms. BARNWELL: (Singing) I'm gonna sit like dear Ms. Rosa Parks. I'm gonna sit down and resist.

SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK: (Singing) Do what the Spirit say.

Ms. BARNWELL: (Singing) And then, I'm gonna stand when the Spirit say…

SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK: (Singing) Stand, children, stand.

Ms. BARNWELL: (Singing) …stand up. I'll stand when the Spirit say, stand.

SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK: (Singing) Stand, children, stand.

Ms. BARNWELL: (Singing) I'm gonna stand for my rights and for truth and justice. Gonna stand up, stand, stand, stand.

SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK: (Singing) Do what the Spirit say. March.

Ms. BARNWELL: (Singing) And then I'll march when the Spirit say, march, children, march…

SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK: (Singing) March, children, march.

Ms. BARNWELL: (Singing) …when the Spirit say, march.

SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK: (Singing) March, children, march.

Ms. BARNWELL: (Singing) I'm gonna march like the people from Selma to Montgomery. Gonna march all around the town.

SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK: (Singing) Do what the Spirit say.

Ms. BARNWELL: (Singing) I'm gonna do.

SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK: (Singing) Do children.

Ms. BARNWELL: (Singing) I'm gonna walk.

SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK: (Singing) Walk children.

Ms. BARNWELL: (Singing) I'm gonna shout.

SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK: (Singing) Shout, children.

Ms. BARNWELL: (Singing) I'm gonna sing.

SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK: (Singing) Sing, children.

Ms. BARNWELL: (Singing) I'm gonna write.

SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK: (Singing) Write, children.

Ms. BARNWELL: (Singing) I'm gonna speak.

SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK: (Singing) Speak, children.

Ms. BARNWELL: (Singing) I'm gonna dance.

SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK: (Singing) Dance, children.

Ms. BARNWELL: (Singing) I'm gonna sit.

SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK: (Singing) Sit, children.

Ms. BARNWELL: (Singing) I'm gonna preach.

SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK: (Singing) Preach, children.

Ms. BARNWELL: (Singing) I'm gonna pray.

SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK: (Singing) Pray, children.

Ms. BARNWELL: (Singing) I'm gonna preach.

SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK: (Singing) Preach, children.

Ms. BARNWELL: (Singing) I'm gonna pray.

SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK: (Singing) Pray, children.

Ms. BARNWELL: (Singing) I'm gonna dance.

SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK: (Singing) Dance, children.

Ms. BARNWELL: (Singing) I'm gonna walk.

SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK: (Singing) Walk, children.

Ms. BARNWELL: (Singing) I'm gonna sit.

SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK: (Singing) Sit, children.

Ms. BARNWELL: (Singing) I'm gonna shout.

SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK: (Singing) Shout, children.

Ms. BARNWELL: (Singing) I'm gonna do.

SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK: (Singing) Do, children.

Ms. BARNWELL: (Singing) Do what the Spirit say. Do what the Spirit say. Do, my Lord.

SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK: (Singing) Do, children.

Ms. BARNWELL: (Singing) Oh, do what the Spirit say do.

SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK: (Singing) Do, children.

Ms. BARNWELL: (Singing) Come on and do what the Spirit say.

Ms. MAILLARD: (Singing) Come on.

Ms. BARNWELL: (Singing) Do, my Lord.

Ms. MAILLARD: (Singing) Come on.

Ms. BARNWELL: (Singing) And, oh, may the Spirit of the Lord.

Ms. MAILLARD: Come on, girl.

SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK: (Singing) Do what the Spirit say.

Ms. BARNWELL: (Singing) Come on, we're gonna shout.

SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK: (Singing) Shout, children.

Ms. BARNWELL: (Singing) We're gonna preach.

SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK: (Singing) Preach, children.

Ms. BARNWELL: (Singing) We're gonna pray.

SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK: (Singing) Pray, children.

Ms. BARNWELL: (Singing) We're gonna read.

SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK: (Singing) Read, children.

Ms. BARNWELL: (Singing) We're gonna learn.

SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK: (Singing) Learn, children.

Ms. BARNWELL: (Singing) We're gonna speak.

SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK: (Singing) Speak, children.

Ms. BARNWELL: (Singing) We're gonna teach.

SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK: (Singing) Teach, children.

Ms. BARNWELL: (Singing) We're gonna teach.

SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK: (Singing) Teach, children.

Ms. BARNWELL: (Singing) We're gonna teach.

SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK: (Singing) Teach, children.

Ms. BARNWELL: (Singing) We're gonna vote.

SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK: (Singing) Vote, children.

Ms. BARNWELL: (Singing) We're gonna vote.

SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK: (Singing) Vote, children.

Ms. BARNWELL: (Singing) You better vote.

SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK: (Singing) Vote, children.

Ms. BARNWELL: (Singing) You better vote.

SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK: (Singing) Vote, children.

Ms. BARNWELL: (Singing) We're gonna march.

SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK: (Singing) March, children.

Ms. BARNWELL: (Singing) We're gonna march.

SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK: (Singing) March, children.

Ms. BARNWELL: (Singing) We're gonna march.

SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK: (Singing) March, children.

Ms. BARNWELL: (Singing) We're gonna march.

SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK: (Singing) March, children.

Ms. BARNWELL: (Singing) We're gonna do.

SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK: (Singing) Do, children.

Ms. BARNWELL: (Singing) Do what the Spirit say.

SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK: (Singing) Do.

Ms. BARNWELL: (Singing) Do what the Spirit say.

SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK: (Singing) Do.

Ms. BARNWELL: (Singing) Do what the Spirit say. Do, my Lord.

SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK: (Singing) Do, children.

Ms. BARNWELL: (Singing) Oh, do what the Spirit say.

SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK: (Singing) Do, children.

Ms. BARNWELL: (Singing) We're gonna do what the Spirit say do, my Lord…

SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK: (Singing) Do.

Ms. BARNWELL: (Singing) …and obey the Spirit of the Lord.

SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK: (Singing) Oh, do what the Spirit say, do.

(Soundbite of applause, cheering)

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. We're in NPR's performance Studio 4A here in Washington with the legendary a capella group, Sweet Honey in the Rock.

You're - that was wonderful, by the way.

Ms. BARNWELL: I wrote a few new words and…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BARNWELL: …but that's okay.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: You're - speaking of writing, you know, the liner notes for the CD include lesson plans, ways to help parents, caregivers talk about the music with their kids. Who's idea was that?

Ms. CASEL: Madam (unintelligible).

MARTIN: Nitanju? Where did the idea come from?

Ms. CASEL: Well, because when we started, the whole concept was to take lessons from our lives to see what we could offer to young people, so we started thinking about a lesson, but hopefully not a boring one. And then I got the idea of the composition notebook and thought about the Adinkra symbols from West Africa and how so many of them have sayings that could tie into the songs and the meanings that we had. And we just sat down with the graphic artist and laid the whole thing out.

MARTIN: Is anyone at all concerned that your adult fans will pick this up and think, I don't need them to tell me that. I know how to brush my teeth or…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. MAILLARD: This is Carol. And I took into Los Angeles a few weeks ago. And a friend of mine, she put the CD in, and before the evening was out, she had called me to say, girl, number nine. That Chinese proverb went through my heart. There's so many songs on here that I absolutely love and my nieces are loving. And they are like 7 and 8 years old. So, I think that when you listen to the music and just let it seep into you, I think everyone will be able to get something from it. We say it's not really just for young people, right, Nitanju?

Ms. CASEL: That's right, but also, this is not our first children's recording. It's the fourth one, and we do, often, our children's material within our adult concerts because the concerts, really, are for everyone.

MARTIN: Is that part of your intention, though, that this is music that families can listen to together?

Ms. CASEL: Oh, yes.

Ms. MAILLARD: Yes.

Ms. CASEL: This is a new - we feel like we're breaking new ground.

Mr. BARNWELL: Absolutely.

Ms. CASEL: The concept of a family album that can be put in a CD player in a car and everybody smiling.

MARTIN: Mm-hmm.

Ms. CASEL: You know?

Ms. MAILLARD: That's right.

Ms. ROBINSON: And even musically, I think…

MARTIN: Louise.

Ms. ROBINSON: …if you took the words out, you know, adults would feel that music.

MARTIN: Mm-hmm.

Ms. ROBINSON: You could put different words in there, you know, and say it's geared towards someone 30.

Ms. MAILLARD: Exactly.

Ms. ROBINSON: The music itself, I think, is…

MARTIN: 30, huh?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. MAILLARD: Forty, I think.

MARTIN: I was going to say…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BARNWELL: Well…

MARTIN: Your point was?

Ms. BARNWELL: Sixty is the new 30.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Let's hope so.

Ms. MAILLARD: Happy birthday.

(Soundbite of laughter, applause)

Ms. ROBINSON: I like that.

MARTIN: Before we take a short break, for those of us who've listened to you for many years, could you just toss us a bone and sing us one of our favorites?

Ms. MAILLARD: And what would that be, Michel?

MARTIN: Well, I only have about 15, but just in the interest of time, maybe you'll share "Breaths" with us?

Ms. BARNWELL: Sure.

MARTIN: Thank you.

Ms. BARNWELL: "Breaths" is from a poem by the Senegalese poet named Birago Diop, and it really expresses a world view about those who have died. And it says that they are with us always, and that we call their names and hear their voices in everything that we do.

(Soundbite of song, "Breaths")

Ms. BARNWELL: (Singing) Listen more often to things than to beings. Listen to more often to things than to beings. 'Tis the ancestor's breath when the fire's voice is heard. Tis the ancestor's breath in the voice of the water.

Those who have died have never, never left. The dead are not under the earth. They are in the rustling trees. And they are in the groaning woods. They are in the crying grass. And they are in the moaning rocks. The dead are not under the earth.

So I listen more often to things than to beings. Listen more often to things than to beings. Tis the ancestor's breath when the fire's voice is heard. Tis the ancestor's breath in the voice of the water.

Those who have died have never, never left. The dead have a pact with the living. They are in the woman's breast, and they are in the wailing child. They are with us in our homes. And they are with us in this crowd. The dead have a pact with the living.

So I listen more often to things than to beings. I listen more often to things than to beings. 'Tis the ancestor's breath when the fire's voice is heard. 'Tis the ancestor's breath in the voice of the water.

Listen more often to things than to beings. Listen more often to things than to beings. 'Tis the ancestor's breath when the fire's voice is heard. 'Tis the ancestor's breath in the voice of the water.

(Soundbite of applause, cheering)

MARTIN: There's more of Sweet Honey in the Rock on the Web at npr.org. Take a listen. And don't forget to look at our new music Web site with pictures of Sweet Honey in the Rock, and video of this live performance.

(Soundbite of song, "Education is the Key")

MARTIN: I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Npr.org has remade it's music Web site, and we're celebrating in performance Studio 4A with a full audience, and Sweet Honey in the Rock singing from their new album "Experience 101."

(Soundbite of song, "Education is the Key")

SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK: (Singing) It's time for learning. I can hardly wait. You know the school bell rings at half past seven, and, you know I'm gonna be late. No, no, no, you don't wanna be late. I love to learn about places near and far. I love to learn about the planets and the stars. I love to count into infinity. I love physics, social science and world geography. Education is the key to the future. Education is for me, yes, for me. You know the future's mine, and I'll take it. I got my education, and I just can't fake it. Education is the key to the future. Education is for me.

(Soundbite of applause)

MARTIN: That was "Education is the Key." It's from Sweet Honey in the Rock's new CD, "Experience 101." They're here with us in the studio. We're going to continue our conversation with the group, and we're going to take some questions offered up by our studio audience.

But let me reintroduce the group first: Aisha Kahlil, Louise Robinson, Ysaye Maria Barnwell, Nitanju Bolade Casel, Carol Maillard.

And let's have some questions from the audience. I think - Donna, you had a question, come on up.

DONNA (Audience Member): Hello, It's so good to see you ladies.

Ms. BARNWELL: Hello.

Ms. ROBINSON: Hi.

DONNA: I know that with Bernice Johnson Reagon having been a founder and such an incremental part of your group, what was the transition like for you when she left?

Ms. BARNWELL: This is Ysaye. It was challenging. It was very challenging. In part, we needed to be certain that we wanted to move forward, and we agreed on that. She announced and then - to us, but then really didn't make it very public, so that we spent about a year in which we were being filmed while that transition was in process.

We had to go through the process of looking for new members of the group. We also wondered what the audiences would be like when Bernice left, whether the audiences were committed to a personality and to a voice, or whether the audiences were committed, in fact, to Sweet Honey in the Rock.

I'm pleased to say that I feel the majority of our audiences are committed to supporting Sweet Honey in the Rock as an institution, which is what I think Bernice was very, very good at creating, an institution, and we have decided that we want to keep that institution going.

MARTIN: Danny has a question.

DANNY (Audience Member): I'm a lot older than I used to be when I started listening to you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

DANNY: And I'm figuring that you probably are somewhat older, too. And I'm wondering how has that changed your voices, and have you accommodated your arrangements to your voices?

Ms. MAILLARD: Wow.

Ms. MAILLARD: This is Carol. And do you want it - you want that answered, like, individually, or is this like a blanket Sweet Honey statement?

DANNY: Definitely everybody.

Ms. MAILLARD: Everybody? I don't feel as though my voice has suffered any pro-aging, as they say. I feel in some instances, in some cases, that my voice is actually stronger than it ever has been.

The only thing I think I'm having problems with right now is like maybe pitch. I think because I'm tired most of the time and my brain can't process hearing. That's the only thing I can think of that's very different because - from when I was younger. Oh, I'm still younger. Oh, dear.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. CASEL: And positive.

Ms. MAILLARD: And positive I'm young, but that's the only thing I would say. And I don't think we make a lot of accommodations. We do what we can in terms of keys and energy. I think things probably now are a lot even more, who knows, spicy.

Ms. ROBINSON: Sometimes songs change.

Ms. MAILLARD: Right, songs change.

Ms. ROBINSON: Right, because the arrangements become more contemporary and…

Ms. CASEL: Yeah.

Ms. ROBINSON: …new ideas come into a song that's been around. Right?

Ms. CASEL: Yeah.

Ms. BARNWELL: But it's not an accommodation to our voices. I actually feel like my voice is stronger in some ways, that I - the in between the two extremes of my range that I have developed that a little bit more, and I'm grateful for that.

MARTIN: I wanted to pick up on Danny's question, though. What about how you feel you relate to the music business? Because the music business has always been so - well, no, it hasn't always been so youth-oriented, but it's in the moment now that it's extremely youth-oriented, particularly in popular music, to the, you know, the point where, you know, kids are kind of almost being snatched out of the cradle and put in, you know, spandex to perform. How do you feel you fit into that?

Ms. BARNWELL: We've always been at the edge, for a number of reasons. It's very difficult to classify the music of Sweet Honey in the Rock, because we sing just about everything. So its hard when you say, well, what kind of group is this? Well, we're a capella. Well, what kind of music do you sing? Everything.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BARNWELL: Well, where do they put you in the record stores? Everywhere?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. ROBINSON: In rock.

Ms. BARNWELL: In women's music, in folk music, in gospel music, in children's' music. You have to go…

Ms. ROBINSON: Rock, also.

Ms. BARNWELL: Rock, also. You have to go to a lot of different sections of the store to find us. Now, with downloading, it's easier. And I think because we are women who take a stand on issues, we are not necessarily viable commercially, and so - and that can change, you know. That can change.

It's not that we don't want to be commercial, we just have not found our way into the space, and I think it's because people have a hard time classifying and categorizing who we are.

MARTIN: Well, I am curious about the whole question of artists who want to speak out politically. And I was going to ask about that, too. But since you opened it up, I wanted to ask about that now, that - have you found it easier or harder over the years since the things that you sing about and want to talk about, the positions, the point of view that you express sometimes is not very popular?

Ms. BARNWELL: You know, it's - we've been doing - we've been speaking out for 34 years, so it's nothing new for us. We think about things and we say what we think and what we feel. I think new artists who are coming into the market. And artists who typically are known for singing acceptable, you know, things, when they begin to speak out, they have a rough time because no one expects them to take a stand in a particular way.

But people do expect us to take a stand. People do know that we write material that other people aren't necessarily writing about.

Ms. ROBINSON: I can't see any reason why we should not be able to do and say what we want to when we're creating music, especially if it's uplifting people and if it's making people think in such a way that they can improve their lives and improve their communities. I think that artists, actors, directors - for me, this is my personal opinion - if you live in a democracy, you have every right in the world to speak.

And for people to, say, you know, just get up there and sing or just get up there and dance or just do what you do, that's all what we want from you. Oh, you're not a person? You don't have ideas or thoughts?

So, like I said, you know, Ysaye have said it very clearly. This is what we've always done. This is Sweet Honey. This is who we are. And I don't think that's going to change any time soon.

MARTIN: Carol, you mentioned a song that you said a friend of yours particularly enjoyed called the "Chinese Proverb."

Ms. MAILLARD: The "Chinese Proverb."

MARTIN: I'd love it if we could hear it.

Ms. MAILLARD: Sure.

MARTIN: Tell me about it, if you would.

Ms. MAILLARD: I think Ysaye could probably do a better job, because she brought it to the group.

MARTIN: Ysaye?

Ms. BARNWELL: We were in England several years ago, and on the stage before us was a community choir that had been inspired by Sweet Honey in the Rock. And one of the songs they sang was "Chinese Proverb." It was written by a woman named Sarah Durant(ph), the music was, but it is an ancient proverb, and it's an amazing lesson for all of us.

(Soundbite of song, "Chinese Proverb")

SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK: (Singing) When there is light in the soul, there is beauty in the person. When there is beauty in the person, there is harmony in the home. When there is harmony in the home, there is honor in the nation. When there is honor in the nation, there is peace in the world.

When there is light in the soul, there is beauty in the person. When there is beauty in the person, there is harmony in the home. When there is harmony in the home, there is honor in the nation. When there is honor in the nation, there is peace in the world.

(Soundbite of applause)

MARTIN: We're in NPR's performance studio 4A with a full house, celebrating the launch of npr.org's new and improved music Web site with Sweet Honey in the Rock.

We have time for one or two or more questions. Addie?

ADDIE (Audience Member): Hi. A lot of times, people tend to think that with female groups, there's a lot of cattiness, there's a lot of jealousy. Is that the thing with you guys? Is…

(Soundbite of laughter)

ADDIE: Did you all almost kill other before - no, I'm just kidding around, here. No.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ADDIE: But what's the dynamic like between your group? You guys have been together for so long.

Ms. BARNWELL: Human.

ADDIE: It's human.

Ms. BARNWELL: I - yeah. I think, no, I think there's a lot of love in this group. I think group dynamics exist everywhere. And so you have different personalities and, you know, and especially a group like Sweet Honey where you're doing your business and you are the businesswomen and the performers, you have to come - you have about different ideas and you have to hash things out. And yes, we go through that, but this group is - there's a lot of it. The bottom line here is love. We're all on the same course, on the same street, on the same path, in the same house.

Ms. ROBINSON: I think also that at the bottom line, we're committed to what we do. We have dynamics. We try to iron them out. You know, we do the very best we can. We can't be human without them, but I think that we are also mature women, you know. So we've been doing this a long time. We've figure out some things.

Ms. MAILLARD: And also, I'd just like to add, I do think that it's not just women that should be perceived as being catty or having problems within groups, because I think some of these male bands out there, I mean, the stories you hear about people flying in totally different airplanes. They each have their own plane. They each have their own entourage. They go to different hotels, and it's just a dynamic. I don't think it's male or female. I would not like to see a male catfight ever. But I'm sure they exist.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. MAILLARD: More so. Pooh. Grab on.

MARTIN: And that does leads to my final question. Thirty-four years…

Ms. MAILLARD: Mm, mm, mm.

MARTIN: Thirty-four years. That's longer than - oh, we don't need to say what's that longer than, but (unintelligible).

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: How do you think that has been possible? What do you think has kept the group going all these years?

Ms. ROBINSON: This is Louise Robinson. One thing I think is the need for Sweet Honey in the world. I think our voice, what it is that Sweet Honey in the Rock offers, as long as there is an audience, we are there for the audience. We don't just, you know, get up and say, oh, we just want to do this concert. We're just going to do this show or do this tour. The audience has called Sweet Honey. They call us to their cities. We would like you to do this. We'd like you to be a part of this rally or whatever it is - special events. That's one thing, I think, that keeps Sweet Honey going.

Ms. MAILLARD: I think another thing is our adaptability. There have been 23 women in Sweet Honey in the Rock, and so as women's lives change and they move on, we have to adapt and find someone else. We are fortunate that women show up when we need someone new. And so I think the ability to say, okay, you know, you have a life, you want to make changes in your life, we will continue.

MARTIN: Well, that's a great way to wrap up our visit with you today. I should also mention that you are among the artists who contributed songs for another Give Us Your Poor CD on Appleseed Records that benefits the homeless. Bruce Springsteen's on it. Jon Bon Jovi's on it. Bonnie Raitt is on it, and Sweet Honey's on it.

And, of course, we're here to celebrate your latest CD, "Experience…101." What should be our last song?

Ms. ROBINSON: I think we would like to do one of the songs from "Give Us Your Poor."

MARTIN: Okay, that'll be fine.

Ms. ROBINSON: And Aisha Kahlil produced the track and - for the CD, and she's also leading it.

(Soundbite of music)

SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK: (Singing) Stranger, stranger, stranger, stranger here. Stranger, stranger, stranger, stranger there. Stranger, stranger, stranger everywhere. Stranger, stranger, stranger.

Ms. KAHLIL: (Singing) I'm a stranger, stranger here. I'm a stranger everywhere. My love, I would go home, but I'm a stranger there.

SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK: (Singing) Stranger.

Ms. KAHLIL: (Singing) I'd rather rather pray, but it won't help. I'd rather sleep on a hollow log than to stay here in this city being treated like a dirty dog.

SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK: (Singing) Stranger.

Ms. KAHLIL: (Singing) That's why I got up this morning, and I put on my walking shoes. I'm going down the road because I got the walking blues.

SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK: (Singing) Stranger.

Ms. KAHLIL: (Singing) I'm a stranger, stranger here.

SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK: (Singing) Stranger here. Stranger there. Stranger here.

SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK: (Singing) I'd rather dream.

Ms. KAHLIL: (Singing) I'd rather dream.

SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK: (Singing) But I woke up.

Ms. KAHLIL: (Singing) But I woke up.

SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK: (Singing) I'd rather sleep on the hollow log.

Ms. KAHLIL: (Singing) I'd rather sleep on the hollow log.

SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK: (Singing) Than to stay…

Ms. KAHLIL: (Singing) Than to stay here…

SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK: (Singing) …being treated like a dirt and dust.

Ms. KAHLIL: (Singing) …being treated like a dirty, dirty dog.

SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK: (Singing) Stranger, stranger, stranger everywhere.

Ms. KAHLIL: (Singing) You a stranger, nothing but a stranger. Stranger everywhere. I would go home. But even when I go home, I know I ain't gonna be nothing but a stranger.

SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK: (Singing) Stranger. I would go home, but I won't. Stranger. I would go home. I would go home, but I won't. Stranger. I would go home. I would go home, but I won't. Stranger.

I would go home, but I won't. Stranger. I won't go home.

Ms. KAHLIL: (Singing) You're a stranger.

(Soundbite of applause)

MARTIN: Aisha Kahlil, Louise Robinson, Ysaye Maria Barnwell, Nitanju Bolade Casel, Carol Maillard, Sweet Honey in the Rock, thank you so much. Thanks also to our studio audience for joining us here in Studio 4A. That's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Unidentified Woman: All right.

MARTIN: Let's talk more tomorrow.

Unidentified Woman: All right. Go, Michel.

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