Today I would like to honor and pay tribute to one of my personal heroes, Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon. In 1973, Reagon founded the a cappella group Sweet Honey in the Rock. Johnson Reagon started her music/social work career before Sweet Honey in the Rock. She was a type of community organizer and performed with The Freedom Singers in her hometown of Albany, Georgia. The Freedom Singers was, in part, formed by Johnson Reagon’s husband, Cordell Reagon. How amazing and lovely that Cordell and Bernice were friends with Pete Seeger, who helped to support the founding of The Freedom Singers.
I was first introduced to Sweet Honey in the Rock in 1991 at the Black Arts Festival at Piedmont Park, in Atlanta, Georgia. After hearing them perform Ella’s Song, I went out and bought all of their albums and went to every concert when they came to Atlanta. Reagon earned her doctorate at Howard University and became a strong voice in the Civil Rights movement. Reagon has dedicated her life to issues of social justice and the intersections of oppression. Reagon, through her music, addresses issues of race, gender, sexual orientation, and the intersections of oppression. She reached many of us dedicated to civil rights through song:
I learned that if you bring black people together, you bring them together with a song. To this day, I don’t understand how people think they can bring anybody together without a song…I came out of the Civil Rights Movement, and I had a different kind of focus than most people who have just the academic background as their primary training experience.
I am fortunate enough to stand on the shoulders of greatness, including Dr. Johnson Reagon. Her work and the music of Sweet Honey in the Rock inform how I live my life and how I teach.
For me, Dr. Johnson Reagon is a musical social worker: “We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes.”