SingOutI hear music all the time. I have always heard it: so much sometimes that it seems I could never get enough of it out. Many times feeling on the verge of bursting because there is only one me and one voice. Something in me wants to get rid of my physical shell and be a song.

This morning I heard sounds from Mt Early in me…last night Son House’s Death Letter Blues crept into my room, and then the hymn There is rest for the weary and then tunes I’d never heard before. They never sound new to me, my new songs. Sometimes it feels as if they have been there waiting, and they just feel like they come through me as a way to have fuller being as sound through me on their way to somewhere else.

Sometimes I feel that music is in the air like currents and in order to hear, they need the air moving through instruments – like ‘my voice riding on the rising wind’ bringing song into hearing spaces… Music, here all the time, looking for a way to get beyond before and beyond hearing.

Some songs I recognize, and can place. Many times they come in sounds and feelings; no words – crowding in and through me commanding to be sung, to be used, to be let out.

The music that has found release through me has always been related to “Bernice Reagon, African in America.” My songs usually have to do with struggling against oppression, with the feeling of keeping afloat in spite of it all…

Excerpted and revised from Sing Out Magazine article: “I Hear Music All the Time” Bernice Reagon, January/February, 1971

    Solo Folk Performances

    I began singing as a solo unaccompanied singer in 1962. It was a great time for folk music of all kinds: traditional music of all kinds form many cultures, new topical songs, freedom songs. And so many places to sing, my first job was as an unaccompanied folk singer at Café Lena Folk Club in Saratoga Springs, New York.

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    Freedom Singers

    I date my work as an organizer from being a student leader in my home town of
    Albany, Georgia. My work as an organizer, and singer was combined in my work as a Freedom Singer and field secretary for SNCC. We sang wherever we could find an audience, from concert halls, to living rooms to elementary schools.

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    Harambee Singers

    In 1966, a group of parents who had started an interracial pre-school in Atlanta had a fundraiser for the school. We created the Penny Festival, the script was created by Charlie Cobb, Julius Lester, Vincent Harding and myself. After the performance, Mary Ethel Jones and Mattie Casey knocked on my door and said, we want to sing. We formed the Harambee Singers, a group of five or six Black Women a cappella singers who sang for the Black Consciousness/Black Studies/Black Power/Black Arts gatherings. It was a choral Black women collective voice calling for unity.

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    Sweet Honey in the Rock

    Now moving well into it fourth decade, Sweet Honey In The Rock, was organized by Bernice Johnson Reagon as an African American women a cappella ensemble in 1973 in Washington, DC.

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    I used the term songtalk for the first time in 1975 to name the genre of a theater work, A Day, A Life, A People. It was not a musical everything was sung, even the prose. I wanted a term that would be closer to the ground than opera, so I came up with songtalkto describe a music genre capable of all levels of spoken communication.

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