Feb. 15, 2011

Community Sing Set March 3 on Campus with Ysaye Barnwell, Musician and Member of ‘Sweet Honey in the Rock’ Ensemble

Ysaye Barnwell

Alumna Ysaye Barnwell will lead a Community Sing on the Geneseo campus March 3. Listen to her explain the "oral tradition" method she will use at the event.

GENESEO, N.Y. - SUNY Geneseo alumna Ysaye Maria Barnwell, an internationally known composer and singer, will continue Geneseo's celebration of the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. by conducting a Community Sing on campus March 3 from 7 to 9:30 p.m. in the college's MacVittie College Union Ballroom. The sing is free and open to the public.

Barnwell, best known as a singer in the Grammy Award winning, internationally renowned all-woman 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.

"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 says she looks forward to returning to Geneseo again and says the Community Sing will be a very special event. She received both a bachelor's and master's degree in speech pathology from Geneseo in 1967 and 1968, respectively.  She also earned a doctorate in speech pathology from the University Pittsburgh and a master's degree in public health from Howard University. Geneseo conferred a honorary doctorate of humane letters on her during commencement 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.  She also has acted in a television series and appeared in the 1998 film "Beloved," which starred Oprah Winfrey and Danny Glover.

Barnwell was a very active and involved student at Geneseo during the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. She was at Geneseo when Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated in 1968 and sang at the college's first memorial commemoration. The chair of the committee coordinating the March 3 Community Sing, Emilye Crosby, professor of history at Geneseo, says the college has been guided by a distinct understanding of his life and legacy in planning events to commemorate King.

"As a society, we recognize that Dr. King is the most visible leader of the modern Civil Rights Movement," said Crosby, "but unfortunately we have frozen him in time with his famous 'I Have a Dream Speech.' His life addressed so many more issues related to social justice, including poverty and militarism. In our commemorations at Geneseo, we try to emphasize those efforts and struggles as well as contemporary issues of race and justice."

The Community Sing is sponsored by Geneseo's Office of the Provost, Africana/Black Studies Program, the Xerox Center for Multicultural Teacher Education and the Office of Multicultural Programs and Services.


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