Students who couldn’t catch a ride home for Rosh Hashanah weekend will have the opportunity to catch a free community singing event instead. On Saturday, the Binghamton University Art Museum will host a lecture and community sing titled “Singing Who We Are” with singer-songwriter Ysaye Maria Barnwell, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the Watters Theater in the Anderson Center.
Music has been part of Barnwell’s life since childhood; she learned to play the violin when she was two years old and spent 15 years studying it afterward. She has also written two children’s books, composed several movies and television shows and acted in the 1998 film “Beloved.”
Throughout her musical career, Barnwell has established herself as a singer, songwriter, music producer and instrumentalist, appearing on more than 30 recordings with the African American a cappella ensemble group Sweet Honey in the Rock, a group she was a member of for more than 40 years. In 1977, she founded the Jubilee Singers, a choir at All Souls Church Unitarian in Washington, D.C. Although Barnwell is no longer a member of Sweet Honey in the Rock, she is still very active in the music scene, and her talents bring her to BU this Saturday.
Diane Butler, organizer of the community sing and director of the BU Art Museum, said that the upcoming event complements the current exhibition at the BU Art Museum, “not but nothing other: African-American Portrayals, 1930s to Today.”
“A number of the works of art reference music, so a musical program seemed to be a natural fit,” Butler said. “The idea to invite Ysaye Barnwell came out of discussions I had with members of a Community [Development] Advisory Committee, assembled by invitation from our community consultant, Sharon Ball.”
“Singing Who We Are” will consist of a short lecture by Barnwell about African American song forms, followed by a community sing with the audience.
According to a Facebook post, Barnwell described a past community sing at the East Liberty Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 2016 as a welcoming and inclusive environment where musical experience is not required.
“I sing to the group and the group sings back,” she said. “We begin in a fun easy way, and in two hours, we become a choir of uncommon voices singing with great joy in four- to eight-part harmony, and as many rhythms, and raising the roof.”
Butler said the event will be an opportunity to unite with other attendees over music.
“There is an amazing continuity between the visual and performing arts,” Butler said. “This is particularly strong in the African American community. Music, in particular, has the ability to unite people of different ages and experiences.”