Toshi Reagon on Winning 2021 Herb Alpert Arts Award
The Herb Alpert Award in the Arts is an unrestricted prize of $75,000 given annually to risk-taking mid-career artists working in the fields of dance, film/video, music, theater and the visual arts. Every year, 10 artists are recognized, and in 2021, one of those is Toshi Reagon, composer, producer and singer/songwriter who spans folk, blues, gospel, rock and funk. Her mother, Bernice Johnson Reagon, founded the iconic women a cappella group Sweet Honey in the Rock. Her father, Cordell Hull Reagon, was a civil rights leader in Albany. So she comes from both roots music and engaged, positive activism from day one. Afropop’s Banning Eyre spoke with Reagon by Zoom about her work, the award and these crazy times we live in. Here’s their conversation.
Banning Eyre: Toshi, it’s great to talk with you. First of all, congratulations on this award. That must be a nice feeling.
Toshi Reagon: You know it’s like: What does it all mean? It’s great to be in a circle of artists with so many amazing people. But when it comes to awards, I’m always like, “Really? What did I do?” But I’m very grateful.
It’s well deserved. I came up in the ‘70s and was a big fan of Sweet Honey in the Rock. I was just watching a number of your videos over the weekend, and they’re wonderful. I grew up in a household where my mother listened to Leadbelly, so I think that’s where my whole interest in African-American and ultimately African music started. I hear a lot of tradition in what you do, but I’m curious about how you approach songwriting. How do you think of yourself as a songwriter? What are you trying to do when you write songs?
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