Monday, August 31, 2009

Sweet Honey celebrates Duke Gardens' 75th

By Orla Swift

Sarah P. Duke Gardens’ South Lawn was ablast in bright colors Sunday with a sight never before seen: roughly 7,500 people packed in for a free concert by a cappella queens Sweet Honey in the Rock.

The afternoon concert, co-produced by the Gardens and Duke Performances, commemorated the Gardens’ 75th anniversary.

Fans flocked to the Gardens from throughout the state, as well as Virginia, New York and elsewhere, arriving hours before the 4 p.m. show, eager to soak in the Gardens' flavor and an afternoon with the Grammy winners, whose career spans more than 35 years.

Sweet Honey’s music is worth a long wait in steamy sunshine, said Heshima DuEwa, of Durham, a fan since the group's inception.

"They sing with a consciousness of not only the plight of the people here but the plight of the people the world around," she said.

The music is educational, too, she said as the group did a 2 p.m. sound check in front of the growing crowd.

"It makes you want to go further than here and do a little research sometimes," she said. "If they’re singing about something, let’s say something that’s happening in Brazil, and you don’t know this issue, it makes you want to go and look it up so that when you hear it the next time, you can really relate to it."

"I also like the fact that they show what the human body can do," added her friend, Terry Tiamd, who drove from Charlotte for the show. "They don’t have instruments other than their bodies, their voices, things that are handmade. It speaks to their creativity and their intelligence."

Sweet Honey has its own sign language interpreter, Shirley Childress Saxton, and a number of deaf or hearing-impaired people sat up front to see Saxton's signing. At each song’s end, they raised their hands and shook their palms in silent, signed applause as the crowd around them roared.

"It doesn't get much better than this: a beautiful, if hot, Sunday afternoon, a remarkable and inspiring group of musicians, a beautiful setting, and a diverse crowd representing every part of our university and community," said Michael Schoenfeld, Duke's vice president for public affairs and government relations. "This was a special day for Duke and Durham."

Openers The Bailey Elites, a shout band from Durham, got the show off to a rousing start, with horn-driven gospel music – interpreted in sign language by Mary Shelton, of Fuquay Varina. The Elites' set finished with a long, interactive version of "When the Saints Go Marching In," with audience members drawing waves of applause as they sang solo refrains in the microphone.

Here are some additional photos. Also, please see the fantastic audio slideshow, "When the Spirit Says Sing," by Duke's Faith & Leadership program.

Bill LeFevre, Duke Gardens' executive director, greets the crowd, with Saxton interpreting in sign language.

Braima Moiwai, of Durham, left, teaches New Yorker Bradley Simmons how to sign "I love you."

Terry Tiamd, of Charlotte, says Sweet Honey's performances show what the body can do.

Shirley Childress Saxton, left, signs as Ysaye Barnwell sings.

Sweet Honey encouraged the audience to sing along, with assigned parts sung in the round.

Aisha Kahlil leads Bob Marley's "Redemption Song."

Even those soaking up the shade behind the stage were encouraged to join in.

More Bailey Elites photos.

People were still streaming in at a steady pace well after the show had started. And the crowds overflowed into the Terrace Gardens, the paths surrounding the South Lawn, and behind the stage.

The crowd stuck around for a long time socializing afterward.

People stopped at the Terrace Shop booth to buy the Gardens' new T-shirts and other items.

This is the Gardens' new T-shirt, in case you missed it at the show.

Wendy Brownlee, of Charlotte, below at left, relaxes with her pals as the crowd dissipates. Brownlee drove to Durham for the concert with her pals Ashika Weekes, center, of Charlotte, and Kenya Templeton, of Statesville.

Brownlee is an ardent Sweet Honey fan, having seen them 13 times. She said she loves their music so much that she once auditioned to join them.

"My mom said I was probably like an old lady in the fields who sang all the time in a previous life," Brownlee said. "And my grandmother always said that the way I sang the old spirituals as a child was like an old person."

1 comment:

  1. 7500 people showed up. Too bad they didn't each donate a dollar to charity.