Dr. Ysaye Barnwell shares the story behind “No Mirrors in My Nana’s House.”

Watch the video above to hear her and Dr. LaShawnDa Pittman talk about the song she wrote, compose, and sang with Sweet Honey in the Rock.

Dr. Ysaye M. Barnwell’s biography page indicates that she “studied violin for 15 years beginning at age 2 ½, and majored in music through high school.  With this background, she went on to earn the Bachelor and Master of Science degrees in Speech Pathology (SUNY, Geneseo, 1967, 1968), Doctor of Philosophy in Speech Pathology (University of Pittsburgh, 1975), and the Master of Science in Public Health (Howard University, 1981).  In 1998, Dr. Barnwell was awarded the Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree by her alma mater, SUNY Geneseo.  She recently received the Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from the Meadville Lombard Theological Seminary in Chicago, IL (2009) and the Virginia Theological Seminary (2011); and in 2012, all members of Sweet Honey In the Rock, were awarded the Honorary Doctor of Letters Degree from Chicago Theological Seminary (2012).

For over a decade, Dr. Barnwell was a professor at the College of Dentistry at Howard University, after which she conducted community-based projects in computer technology and the arts, and administered health programs at Children’s Hospital National Medical Center and at Gallaudet University in Washington, DC.  Dr. Barnwell joined Sweet Honey In The Rock® in 1979 and her training as a Sing Language Interpreter, led her to facilitated the group’s tradition of including a Sign Language Interpreter in the ensemble.  After 34 years Barnwell retired from Sweet Honey In The Rock to pursue her other interests.

Dr. Barnwell appears as a vocalist and/or instrumentalist on more than thirty recordings with Sweet Honey In The Rock as well as other artists.  She has, for the past thirty years spent much of her time off stage working as a master teacher and choral clinician in African American cultural performance. Her workshop “Building a Vocal Community®: Singing in the African American Tradition” has during the past twenty-eight years, been conducted on three continents, making her work in the field a significant source of inspiration for both singers and non-singers, a model of pedagogy for educators, and cultural activists and historians.  

Dr. Barnwell has been a commissioned composer on numerous choral, film, video, dance and theatrical projects. In addition to these endeavors, Dr. Barnwell is an actress whose credits include voice-over narration for film, video and radio productions. Four axioms have proven significant in Barnwell’s life. To whom much is given, much is required.  As one door closes, another door opens. Everything matters.  Say Yes!”