The Kennedy Center

Ysaye Maria Barnwell


Ysaye Maria Barnwell is a composer, arranger, author, actress, and former member of the African American female a cappella ensemble Sweet Honey In The Rock. As a vocalist with a three-octave-plus range, she appears on more than twenty-five recordings with Sweet Honey and other artists.

For almost thirty years, and on three continents, Barnwell has led the workshop “Building a Vocal Community: Singing in the African American Tradition.” It uses oral tradition, an African worldview, and African American history, values, culture, and vocal traditions to build communities of song among singers and non-singers alike. Her pedagogy is highly respected among musicians, educators, health workers, activists, and organizers.

Trained as a violinist for fifteen years beginning at the age of two-and-a-half, she also holds degrees in speech pathology, cranio-facial studies, and public health. She was a professor at Howard University College of Dentistry for over a decade, and in the years following she developed training programs at Children’s National Medical Center and administered community-based health programs at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C.

Watch Past Performances

Video 7/7/2018: Roadwork's 40th Anniversary: Three Voices

The Smithsonian Folklife Festival celebrates Roadwork’s 40th anniversary as a D.C.-based multiracial coalition that puts women artists on the road locally and globally, with a performance featuring D.C. artists Ysaÿe Maria Barnwell, Be Steadwell, and Carolyn Malachi. Founded in 1978 by women leaders from African American civil rights, women’s, global justice, and lesbian-feminist movements, Roadwork aims at transforming consciousness and creating new movements in global arts and social justice.  You can learn more about Roadwork here.

Presented in collaboration with the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. For more information, please visit