Ysaye Maria Barnwell '67/ MS '68, of the Grammy Award-winning a capella group Sweet Honey in the Rock, leads the college in a Community Sing to help commemorate Martin Luther King Jr. on March 3. /PHOTO PROVIDED
Ysaye Maria Barnwell '67/ MS '68 was a very active and involved student during the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. She was at Geneseo when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968 and sang at the college's first memorial commemoration.
On March 3, Barnwell returns to campus to continue Geneseo's celebration of King's life and legacy by conducting a Community Sing.
Barnwell, best known as a singer in the Grammy Award-winning, internationally renowned, all-female African American a cappella ensemble "Sweet Honey in the Rock," selects music for Community Sings from African and African-American cultures and teaches in the "oral tradition," so musical training is not required to participate. (Listen as Ysaye explains the "oral tradition" method she uses to teach at the Community Sing.)
"You don't have to know how to sing for my Community Sings but you have to be willing to show up and raise your voice along with others who come," says Barnwell. "I sing and the audience sings back. We begin in a fun, easy way and in two hours we become a choir of uncommon voices singing with great joy in four- to eight-part harmony, and as many rhythms, and raising the roof."
Barnwell earned a bachelor's and master's degree in speech pathology from Geneseo in 1967 and 1968, respectively. She earned a doctorate in speech pathology from the University of Pittsburgh and a master's degree in public health from Howard University. Geneseo conferred a honorary doctorate of humane letters on her in 1998.
Barnwell is prolific composer who has been with Sweet Honey in the Rock for 31 years and has written many of the group's songs. In addition, she has been commissioned to create music for dance, choral, film and stage productions. She is a master teacher and choral clinician in African-American cultural performance and conducts music workshops around the world.
The Community Sing is one of many events the college has held in honor of King's legacy.
"Geneseo's Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration emphasizes King's role in a larger movement for racial and economic justice and the continuation of that struggle today," says Professor Emilye Crosby, coordinator of the King Commemoration. "Dr. Barnwell epitomizes those ideals in her life and work. Moreover, with Barnwell's guidance, the Community Sing has space for everyone who is willing to come raise their voice -regardless of talent, skill, or prior experience. Her approach, using the oral tradition, draws on African and African-American traditions, reminding us that in creating community it is important that we include multiple perspectives and worldviews.
If you go:
Ysaye Barnwell '67/MS '68 leads the Community Sing today, March 3, from 7 to 9:30 p.m. in the College Union Ballroom.