Our family loves Sweet Honey in the Rock. We have most of their cds, we’ve seen them in concert several times, and I was fortunate enough to meet member Ysaye Barnwell when I was singing with All Souls Church’s Jubilee Singers, which she founded decades ago.
Sweet Honey has produced a few kids cds, and Zoe loves them. One was a favorite when she was younger–it includes folk songs and gospel songs and African songs and is perfect to sing along with or sing to your baby or toddler. Another one is more geared toward older kids, about education, respect, and manners. This one she played over and over and over several times a day for weeks last year. As much as we like the group and the music, it made us insane. Finally we made her switch to something else. And I revealed that I owned several other Sweet Honey cds. So she asked me to get them out.
We transferred most of my Sweet Honey cds to the car, and Zoe quickly observed that the music for grown-ups sounds different than the music for kids. While there are definitely tight harmonies and creative rhythms common to both, the subject matter of the songs varies widely.
So I’ve found myself explaining a lot of things I didn’t expect to have to talk about with a person who is almost six. Last week in the car we listened to one cd that includes the song “Patchwork Quilt” about the AIDS quilt. Zoe asked me what it was about. So I tried to explain AIDS and the AIDS quilt. There were other songs about injustice, racism, rape, human rights, and all kinds of juicy stuff like that. I tried to explain what “This Is a Mean World” was about. And there were more questions I wasn’t even sure how to approach. I don’t like to lie to Zoe. I don’t like to be evasive. But I also don’t want to go too deep or too far or say too much. I don’t think she or I could handle it. So I cover the basics and leave it at that. She usually listens to what I say and then is quiet. I don’t know if she’s reflecting or she’s just moved on. Then if we’re lucky, an African song with a great beat will come on and she’ll ask me to turn it up and start it from the beginning. Then I can reflect on injustice, human rights, death, and why the world is the way it is.