MacArthur Fellows Program

MacArthur Fellows / Meet the Class of 1989

Bernice Johnson Reagon

Music Historian, Composer, and Vocalist

Washington, District of Columbia

Age: 47 at time of award

Published August 1, 1989

Bernice Johnson Reagon is a specialist in African American oral, performance, protest, and worship traditions, with an emphasis on contemporary religious congregations that use nineteenth-century hymns.

Reagon was principal scholar, conceptual producer, and host of the twenty-six-hour radio series, Wade in the Water: African American Sacred Music Traditions, which was broadcast in 1994.  She also produced a four-volume recording anthology for this series.  Her works include the Smithsonian Classic Recording, Voices of the Civil Rights Movement: Black American Freedom Songs 1960-1965 (1980), and two books: We Who Believe In Freedom: Sweet Honey in the Rock: Still on the Journey (1993) and If You Don’t Go, Don’t Hinder Me: The African American Sacred Music Tradition (2001).  Reagon founded and sang with Sweet Honey in the Rock, a women’s a capella quintet specializing in African-American songs and singing traditions.  She has produced ten of that group’s fourteen albums, including Sacred Ground (1995).  She was also the composer and performer of music scores for the PBS film series, Africans in America (1998).

Reagon was a distinguished professor of history at American University and is curator emeritus at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History.

Reagon received a B.A. (1970) from Spelman College and a Ph.D. (1975) from Howard University.

Last updated January 1, 2005.