Bernice Johnson Reagon , née Bernice Johnson (born Oct. 4, 1942, Albany, Ga., U.S.), African American musician and historian whose work ranged from African spirituals to militant civil rights anthems.
Reagon grew up surrounded by the sacred music of her father’s Baptist church. In 1959 she entered Albany State College, where she studied music and first became involved in political activities. In 1961, with members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), she was arrested during a protest march and was suspended from school. The following year she returned to her music studies at Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia, but she left the same year to join the SNCC Freedom Singers. The group sang at political meetings and jails and also appeared at the 1963 March on Washington. In 1964 she left the Freedom Singers to bear her daughter, Toshi, who later became an accomplished musician in her own right. Her son, Kwan Tauna, was born in 1965. Reagon’s first of a number of solo albums was released in 1966; her second was recorded in 1967. For the next several years she researched traditional African American songs and stories and organized folk festival tours.
Following this period, Reagon became active in black nationalism. She wrote some of her most militant songs as a member of the Harambee Singers. After completing a degree in non-Western history at Spelman, she moved to Washington, D.C., and became the vocal director of the D.C. Black Repertory Theater. In 1973 she formed the singing group Sweet Honey In The Rock, which consisted variously of four to six women, including Reagon, performing a cappella music, ranging from traditional folk, African chant, field hollers, and Baptist hymns to blues, jazz, and rap music. With their unique sound, the group continued to address political and personal issues, toured widely, and recorded many albums. In 1985 they coordinated the closing cultural festivities for the United Nations Decade for Women Conference in Nairobi, Kenya.
During her first years with Sweet