Berklee Professor, Sweet Honey in the Rock Collaborate on Orchestral Work

Liz Burg
March 22, 2012
William C. Banfield
Sweet Honey in the Rock
Photo courtesy of William C. Banfield
Photo by Dwight Carter Photography

Berklee College of Music professor and founder of the college's Africana Studies program, William C. Banfield, along with the iconic Grammy Award-nominated a cappella ensemble Sweet Honey in the Rock, will premiere Symphony 10: Affirmations for a New World at Washington D.C.'s Kennedy Center on April 13 and 14, 2012. Composed by Banfield, Affirmations, is the first ever orchestral collaboration for Sweet Honey in the Rock, whose members Ysaye M. Barnwell, Carol Maillard, Nitanju Bolade Casel, Aisha Kahlil, and Louise Robinson wrote the lyrics to Banfield's work. 

Sweet Honey in the Rock and the National Symphony Orchestra Pops, conducted by Thomas Wilkins, along with the Morgan State University Choir, will premiere Banfield's Affirmations at the Kennedy Center on April 13 and 14, 2012. Both shows begin at 8:00 p.m. Tickets are $20-$80 and are available at or by calling the box office at 800 444-1234.

Audiences can next hear the symphony presented by the Minnesota Orchestra, conducted by Mark Russell Smith, with the Vocal Essence Choir at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis on April 21, 2012 and again on October 3, 2012 at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance with the Sphinx Orchestra, conducted by Banfield, with the Children's Choir of Chicago.

Sweet Honey in the Rock and Banfield began collaborating on Affirmations five years ago. The final 30-minute work comprises five movements. "Symphony 10: Affirmations for New World affirms every human power we have: love, imagination, fear, courage, the will to change, dreaming, asking questions, and touching someone else's soul," said Banfield. "It is stepping out as the text asks for a higher note to redefine the traditions in our art that need new fueling."

"Symphony 10: Affirmations for a New World is a labor of love and one of the most challenging and adventurous projects we've undertaken as a group," said Sweet Honey in the Rock's Barnwell. "It has been a dream to blend our unique sound, artistry, and lyrics with a symphony orchestra, and we're very fortunate to have fulfilled it by partnering with such a gifted and talented composer as Bill Banfield."

Banfield is a noted composer, author, recording artist, musical director, and performer. He currently serves as a professor of Africana Studies and of Music and Society at Berklee, where he founded the school's Africana Studies program. His works have been commissioned, performed, and recorded by orchestras including: the National Symphony Orchestra, Atlanta, Dallas, Akron, Detroit, New York Virtuoso, Grand Rapids, and many others.

While Symphony 10: Affirmations for a New World represents Sweet Honey in the Rock's first foray as an ensemble writing lyrics for an orchestral score, the group has previously collaborated as composers and performers with dance companies (Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Washington Ballet, Dayton Contemporary Dance, and Step Africa), instrumentalists (Wynton Marsalis), as well as noted poets (Sonia Sanchez, Alice Walker, and Maya Angelou).