PORTLAND – The six voices of the internationally renowned a cappella ensemble Sweet Honey in the Rock will rise in song Sunday, Jan. 18, in celebration of the 80th birthday of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the 100th anniversary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

The performance will begin at 7 p.m. in Merrill Auditorium.

For 35 years, Sweet Honey in the Rock has woven spirituals, gospel, hymns, blues, soul, jazz, reggae and doo-wop with stories and movement – using the power of song to challenge injustice, encourage community activism and honor love.

A community gospel chorus featuring members of four Maine choirs – the Pihcintu Children’s Chorus, Rock My Soul, Women in Harmony and the Brunswick Naval Air Station Gospel Choir – will open the celebratory evening of song in the African-American tradition.

Founded by Bernice Johnson Reagon in 1973 at the D.C. Black Repertory Theater Company, Sweet Honey has long been a compelling presence in the musical culture of the United States and communities of conscience throughout the world.

The current ensemble includes Ysaye Maria Barnwell, Nitanju Bolade Casel, Aisha Kahlil, Carol Maillard, Louise Robinson and Shirley Childress Saxton, who interprets all Sweet Honey in the Rock performances in American Sign Language.

Rooted in a deeply held commitment to create music out of the rich textures of African-American traditions, Sweet Honey in the Rock possesses a vocal prowess that captures and builds on sacred songs, African chant, reggae, rap, hip hop, blues and jazz.

Sweet Honey’s collective voice is often accompanied by hand percussion instruments, producing a sound filled with soulful harmonies and intricate rhythms.

The concert is presented by PCA Great Performances in collaboration with NAACP Portland. PCA Offstage will present a free open rehearsal and question-and-answer session with the women of Sweet Honey at 3 p.m. on the Merrill stage. There will also be a free preperformance lecture and community sing from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. in Merrill’s rehearsal hall.

Tickets are $42, $36 and $32. They are available through PortTix, the box office at Merrill Auditorium; by calling 842-0800; and at www.pcagreatperformances.org.

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