LEWISBURG, PA – Acclaimed singer, teacher, author and social activist Bernice Johnson Reagon, a founder of the a cappella ensemble Sweet Honey in the Rock and "songtalker" who has championed the power of music in the quest for civil rights,will speak March 1 at Bucknell University. Her presentation is Tuesday, 7:30 p.m., in Trout Auditorium.
Reagon, a member of the Freedom Singers, will visit the University as part of the Bucknell Forum series, "Creativity: Beyond the Box." The national speakers series features individuals from a wide range of fields who can provide thoughtful and insightful commentary or interactive experiences on new ways of being creative.
"Bernice Johnson Reagon exemplifies the power of creativity through voice and song, which she has used as the tools in her work for civil rights and equality," said Carmen Gillespie, professor of English and a member of the Bucknell Forum Task Force. "We are looking forward to what we know will be a unique form of presentation as she explores how to share ideas and change minds creatively."
For more than 45 years, Reagon has advocated for freedom and justice through her singing, teaching and speaking out against racism and inequities. She coined the term "songtalker" to describe the art of "balancing song and talk in the creation of live performance conversation," according to her website. In 1978, she formed the music company Songtalk Publishing Co., which features performances incorporating singing, poetry and talking.
Born in Dougherty County near Albany, Ga., the daughter of the Rev. Jesse Johnson, Reagon was active in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s while a student at Albany State College. She was expelled from that institution after she participated in a demonstration and was jailed. She later graduated from Spelman College in Atlanta.
Music has been a constant in Reagon's life and work. In 1962, she helped organize the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee Freedom Singers and four years later became a founding member of the Atlanta-based Harambee Singers.
In 1973, Reagon founded the Grammy Award-winning Sweet Honey in the Rock, an internationally renowned all-woman African-American a cappella ensemble that sings of "hope, love, justice, peace and resistance." Reagon performed with the changing lineup of Sweet Honey in the Rock until 2004, when she retired from the group.
A professor emeritus of history at American University in Washington, D.C., Reagon also is curator emeritus at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History and has served as the Cosby Chair of Fine Arts at Spelman College.
She served as a principal scholar, conceptual producer and host for the Peabody Award-winning, "Wade in the Water," a 26-show series produced by National Public Radio and the Smithsonian Institution in 1984. She also was the score composer for the Peabody Award-winning film series produced by WGBH-TV, "Africans in America," broadcast in a PBS documentary film series in 1998.
Reagon has served as music consultant, composer and performer for several other film and video projects, including the award-winning "Eyes on the Prize," the Emmy-winning "We Shall Overcome," and the feature film "Beloved."
In 2003, she created the music and libretto for the Robert Wilson production "The Temptation of St. Anthony," which premiered in Germany and has also been performed in Italy, Spain, England, New York and Australia. With her daughter and collaborator Toshi Reagon and jazz pianist and composer Jeri Allen, Reagon composed the score for the HBO Peabody Award-winning film, "Beah: A Black Woman Speaks," produced by Jonathan Demme and Lisa Gay Hamilton.
Her awards include the Heinz Award for the Arts and Humanities in 2003, the Leeway National Award for Women in the Arts in 2000, the Presidential Medal for Contribution to Public Understanding of the Humanities in 1995, and the MacArthur Fellowship in 1989.
The Bucknell Forum
Since 2007, the Bucknell Forum speaker series has featured nationally renowned leaders, scholars and commentators who have examined various issues from multi-disciplinary perspectives and a diversity of viewpoints.
The "Creativity: Beyond the Box" series task force comprises faculty members Carmen Gillespie, Beth Capaldi Evans, Paula Davis, Joe Tranquillo, Margot Vigeant and Zhiqun Zhu; students Michael Davis, Class of '13, and Lindsay Machen, Class of '11; and administrators Rob Springall and Pete Mackey, chair.