Bernice Johnson Reagon
Leeway Laurel Award
Discipline: Music ,Folk Arts
To The Ancestors' Voices We Take Heed
Spirits of history, our views, values, aspirations given life through past deeds, are always about us in ways unknown, sometimes mysteriously troubling, other times shimmering invitingly before us, until they are given voice in the present.
Bernice Johnson Reagon is a spirit voice who speaks to us in the intimate language of our personal selves, stirring feelings of pains and joys past, stimulating tempting, decisive present moments - the promise of a secret tomorrow - hope for making a just public future in our national and world communities.
She brings to us her special gifts - a voice of beauty and power whose memory chords are laden with inquiries into our histories: the sounds (hums, moans, grunts, floating melodies), the emotions (courage, love, peace), the striving of a woman, of children, a community, a people, a nation, a world that will not rest in the struggle for freedom until it comes.
In her signature voice, she writes, sings, teaches and lives her call to us about the new world coming out of the voices of our many songs sung, our odes to defeats and victories, our reads traveled to the present. To which we, individually and together - in concert halls and auditoria, churches and synagogues, spirited rallies and daring protest lines, classrooms and lecture halls, viewing television documentaries and big screen cinema, on jogging paths and in bedrooms, respond to her like the poet Sterling Brown responded in the people voice to Ma Rainey: "Git way inside us, keep us strong."
We acknowledge and thank you Sister Bernice for reminding us of the ancestor's call. In paying tribute to your creativity, your artistry, your contributions to the beauty we know and feel, we also honor and heed the many ancestors of your spirit: our lives, our families, our communities and the beauty and justice in the world we will make.
In love and respect, we salute you my Sister,
Director of Cultural Heritage Policy
Smithsonian Institution Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage
On occasion of The Leeway Laurel presented to Bernice Johnson Reagon in Philadelphia, April 27, 2000.