February 20, 2018

Chicago (Hyde Park) – The internationally acclaimed, Grammy Award-nominated female African American a cappella ensemble Sweet Honey In The Rock® has been appointed the Don Michael Randel Ensemble-in-Residence at the University of Chicago for the 2018-19 season. This appointment follows a highly successful two-year residency of Imani Winds, a cutting-edge, Grammy Award-nominated woodwind quintet that has contributed meaningfully to the University and surrounding communities.

The vibrant and versatile Sweet Honey In The Rock will bring its own tripartite mission of empowerment, education, and entertainment to the University of Chicago campus through a wide variety of programs designed to impact the campus, the community, and the city of Chicago. During its three residency weeks in 2018-19, Sweet Honey will work with students in the Department of Music’s choral ensembles – the Motet Choir, Women’s Ensemble, University Chorus, and Rockefeller Chapel Choir – in a sequence of workshops, coaching sessions, and free public performances. The ensemble will also visit Department of Music classes; participate in panel discussions with the Center for the Study of Race, Politics, and Culture and other campus entities; host a workshop and Song Circle with community singers; present educational outreach concerts for local K-12 students; and present their own public performances on campus.

“We’re excited to welcome this vibrant musical group as the Don Michael Randel Ensemble-in-Residence,” said Bill Brown, Senior Advisor to the Provost for Arts. “We look forward to connecting Sweet Honey’s mission to the University community through a season of creative and diverse programs.”

Sweet Honey In The Rock is celebrating its 45th Anniversary and performing season in 2018. The current ensemble features four core members: Louise Robinson, Aisha Kahlil, Nitanju Bolade Casel, and Carol Maillard. The ensemble is joined by featured guests bassist Romeir Mendez and vocalist Rochelle Rice. They continue to maintain the resilient spirit and fuse the talents of the 27 women who have contributed to Sweet Honey In The Rock’s legacy since its inception.

The group expressed their shared joy in accepting the Residency: “Sweet Honey is very excited to be a part of the artist in residence program at the University of Chicago in 2018-19. It is even more noteworthy that we are including this residency as part of our 45th year celebration. We look forward to sharing our music, legacy, and commitment to social justice and evolutionary thinking and action with the University, its students, and the surrounding communities in the Chicago area.” 

Sweet Honey In The Rock has consistently been among the most vibrant, versatile, and relevant music collectives in the country over the past four decades. The ensemble is a powerful and unique concert entity, fusing the elastic 360-degree possibilities of the human voice with a distinct theatrical flair. Their dynamic performances incorporate American Sign Language interpretation for the deaf and hearing impaired. The ensemble seeks to preserve and extend the traditions of African American vocal music and to inspire a multidimensional and intergenerational audience to discover and use their individual and collective voices to address the critical issues of our time and celebrate our common humanity.

Sweet Honey embraces a wide range of musical genres, including spirituals, blues, folk, gospel, jazz, popular, and world music. The ensemble draws upon a musical repertoire that spans traditional and original compositions, indigenous and universal aesthetics, historic and contemporary influences. They have a long track record of collaborating with authors, composers, choreographers, costume designers, poets, visual artists, and more.

Over the past several years, Sweet Honey’s resilient spirit has kept them relevant and active around the world. Their 24th recording, “#LoveInEvolution,” (released in 2016 on Appleseed Recordings, in partnership with the group’s own She Rocks-5 label) received widespread critical acclaim. Some other recent highlights have included: four U.S. Embassy tours with performances and community outreach in Ethiopia, Peru, Jamaica, and Swaziland, and Paraquay in 2017. They were headliners of the internationally acclaimed 9th Annual Mountain Bushfire Music Festival (which attracted 20,000 people) in Swaziland; featured artists at the 11th Annual Festival of Voices in Hobart, Tasmania; and part of a tour that also included Launceston, Melbourne and Sydney, Australia. They made their 32nd appearance at New York’s historic Carnegie Hall (with noted guest artists trumpeter and bandleader Terence Blanchard and violinist Regina Carter); performed at the official grand opening Music Festival for National African American Museum of History and Culture and at the National Memorial Service for Nelson Mandela at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC; debuted their first orchestral collaboration writing original lyrics for composer William Banfield’s, “Symphony 10: Affirmations for a New World,” at the Kennedy Center; and they were invited by former President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama to perform at the White House within 100 days of his first term in office.

“We are thrilled to be able to bring such a high profile vocal ensemble to campus for this residency,” said Barbara Schubert, Director of Performance Programs at the University of Chicago.  “Sweet Honey’s high artistic standards, finely honed repertoire, and deep commitment to issues of social justice will have a profound and lasting impact on the students and audiences with whom they interact.”

The 2018-19 season marks the first time a choral ensemble has served as the Don Michael Randel Ensemble-in-Residence. The Pacifica Quartet served as the University’s profession Ensemble-in-Residence for 17 years and was appointed the first Don Michael Randel residency in 2013; Imani Winds will complete their two-year residency at the end of this season, with performances on Friday, May 11 and Saturday, May 12 at the Logan Center for the Arts.

The Don Michael Randel residency program supports an acclaimed musical ensemble for up to three years, providing a permanent home for world-class musicians to engage with the University and Hyde Park communities. The residency was established with a gift from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to honor its departing president, Don Michael Randel, who served as the 12th president of the University of Chicago and is an emeritus faculty member in the Department of Music.  

The Department of Music will announce further information about the 2018-19 Sweet Honey In The Rock public performances later in 2018. Visit music.uchicago.edu for information. To learn more about Sweet Honey In The Rock, visit sweethoneyintherock.org.

Press inquiries

Margo Strebig
Director of Communications & Public Relations
Department of Music