Bernice Reagon is a living treasure in an institution used to dealing with static treasures. When you meet her, you know there’s something there – a vision, a focus, a drive, an intensity – and that’s never changed.”
—Ralph Rinzler
Smithsonian Asst Secretary for Public Service

Projects, Events, Writing

    A Day, A Life, A People

    The DC Black Repertory Company has scored a bullseye with A Day, A Life, A People which opened at the Last Colony Theater on Wednesday.

    This “song talk” written and directed by Bernice Reagon, meets the highest expectations one could have for the young theatrical company. The work has verve, originality, fresh and exiting music and a topicality that should appeal to its broad Washington audience.

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    Lord! I Got A Right To The Tree of Life!

    A Tribute To Early African American Sacred Song, Spelman College, Sisters Chapel, April 15, 2003Created and produced by Bernice Johnson Reagon, 2002-4 Cosby Professor in the Arts at Spelman College in Atlanta Ga. Working collaboratively with faculty and students of the Theater, Music, Dance and Art departments, Lord I Got A Right! was a production created and produced in celebration of the vitality of African American sacred music traditions on this campus founded in 1881.

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    Light of Change, A Concert with Carrie Newcome, Bernice Johnson Reagon, Holly Near

    1967 Pseukay Summer Arts and Culture Program

    An historic performance at an historic event—the “Mix in ’06”—a first time gathering of women from the United Church of Christ and Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), June 24, 2006, Indianapolis, Ind.

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    EveningSong: Celebrating 30 Years

    An Original Production in Tribute to Sweet Honey in the Rock with Toshi Reagon and BIGLovely

    Commissioning Partners: WPAS (Washington Performing Arts Society), Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, University of MD, University Musical Society, University of MI, Dartmouth College, NJPAC (New Jersey Performing Arts Center) University of IL, Champaign/Urbana, University of Austin.

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    The Right to Be, A Documentary on the Afro-American

    The Penny Festival: February 12, 1967

    I headed a committee of parents who produced The Penny Festival as a fundraiser for an interracial pre-school that we had started for our children, The Atlanta Cooperative Pre-School Center.

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  • Songtalk Octavo Score project

    In 1985 Compositions I was published. The scores in this collection are now being revised and will be available as octavo scores. Dr Catherine Roma is Transcription Editor of the project, with Kabanya Vinson as current Songtalk Score Editor. For titles now available, contact Kathy Ostien at Songways.

  • We’ll Understand It Better By and By: Pioneering African American Gospel Composers Published 1992 by Smithsonian Institution Scholarly Press

    A curator at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History and a noted gospel singer herself, Reagon presents a superb collection of essays—by academics who are also gospel performers or record producers—that focus on major figures in black gospel music: Charles A. Tindley, Lucie Campbell Williams, Thomas A. Dorsey, William H. Brewster Sr., Roberta Martin and Kenneth Morris. (from Publishers Weekly, Reed Business Information, Inc.)

  • If You Don’t Go, Don’t Hinder Me: The African American Sacred Song Tradition Published 2001 by University of Nebraska Press

    “If you don’t go, don&#8217t hinder me. I am leaving this place. I would like company. If I have to travel alone, don’t get in my way” How do you survive leaving everything you know to try to reconstruct your life and future in a new way? What do you carry with you on your journey to the new place? Migration looms large as a theme in twentieth–century African American life. Bernice Johnson Reagon uses this theme as a centering structure for four essays that examine different genres of African American sacred music as they manifested themselves throughout the twentieth century and within her own life.

  • We Who Believe in Freedom: Sweet Honey In The Rock: Still On The Journey Published 1993 by Doubleday Publishing

    We Who Believe in Freedom moves with energy and good pacing through the lives and rhythms of the women who make up the group. It includes essays by each member of the group and their support team, historical essays, and appreciations by both Alice Walker and Angela Davis. Part of the celebration of Sweet Honey’s 20th Anniversary year.

  • Compositions One: The Original Compositions of Bernice Johnson Reagon Published 1986 by Songtalk Publishing

    This unique book includes 35 original arrangements and compositions by Bernice Johnson Reagon. Many songs are written about or dedicated to pioneers of the Civil Rights Movement. Each song is preceded by an explanation of its meaning or significance.

    The scores in this collection are now being revised and will be available as octavo scores. The transcription editor is Kabanya Vinson. For titles now available, contact Kathy Ostien at Songways.

  • Compositions Two publication date: Winter 2007 by Songtalk Publishing

    The second collection of full choral arrangements by Bernice Johnson Reagon. More than 30 works transcribed by score transcription editor, Dr Catherine Roma.

  • Coalition Politics: Turning the Century in Home Girls: A Black Feminist Anthology Published 1983 by Kitchen Table Women of Color Press; Rutgers University Press, 2000

    While addressing the West Coast Women’s Music Festival in 1981, longtime activist and musician Bernice Johnson Reagon spoke cogently and movingly about the challenges of coalition work. Among other points, she drew an important distinction between the safe, home-like space that those challenging the status quo may need to bolster themselves and to help define their work, and the challenging, stretching, and often uncomfortable space of coalition-building.

    Her remarks were presented in Home Girls: A Black Feminist Anthology (ed. Barbara Smith, Kitchen Table Press, 1983; Rutgers University Press, 2000) as “Coalition Politics: Turning the Century,” and are just as relevant for advocates in this century as they were for those in the last. (from © Advocacy Institute 2005)

Awards and Recognition


  • “The Music Kept Us from Being Paralyzed: A Talk with Bernice Johnson Reagon,” in Black Notes: Essays of A Musician Writing in a Post-Album Age, William C. Banfield, 2004. Scarecrow Press, Lanham, Maryland.
  • “Nobody Knows the Trouble I See; or By and By I’m Gonna Lay Down My Heavy Load,” The Journal of American History, June 1991.
  • “Women as Culture Carriers in the Civil Rights Movement: Fannie Lou Hamer,” Women in the Civil Rights Movement: Trailblazers and Torchbearers, 1941-1965, editors, Vicki L. Crawford, Jacqueline Anne Rouse, and Barbara Woods, part of a sixteen-volume series entitled Black Women in United States History, Indiana University Press, 1993 (originally published, New York: Carlson Publishing, 1990).
  • “The Lined Hymn as a Song of Freedom,” Black Music Research Bulletin, Vol. 12, No. 1, 1990.
  • “Foreword,” Re-imaging America: The Arts of Social Change, editors, Mark O-Brian and Craig Little, Philadelphia: New Society Publishers, 1989.
  • “African Diaspora Women: The Making of Cultural Workers,” Women in Africa and the African Diaspora, editors, Rosalyn Terborg-Penn, Sharon Harley, and Andrea Benton Rushing, Howard University Press, 1987.
  • “Let the Church Sing Freedom”, Black Music Research Journal, Vol. 7, 1987.
  • “Zora Neale Hurston” and “Mary McLeod Bethune,” Dictionary of American Biography, W.W. Norton & Company.
  • “Rubye Doris Robinson,” Biographies of American Women, Harvard University Press, 1980