Toshi Reagon (born January 27, 1964) is an American musician of folk, blues, gospel, rock and funk, as well as a composer, curator, and producer.
Born January 27, 1964 in Atlanta, Georgia, Reagon grew up in Washington, D.C. She was raised by musician parents active in the civil rights movement. Her mother, Bernice Johnson Reagon, founded the all-woman a capella group Sweet Honey in the Rock in 1973, which had a profound influence on her. Her father, Cordell Hull Reagon, was a leader of the civil rights movement in Albany (Georgia) and member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Her parents were also part of the civil rights musical group The Freedom Singers.
Reagon lists 1970's rock & roll bands such as Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, and Kiss, as well as classic Blues musicians such as Big Mama Thornton, Howlin' Wolf, and Big Bill Broonzy as additional musical influences.
Bands and performances
Reagon began performing at age 17 when Lenny Kravitz invited her to open for him on his first world tour. She has since shared the stage with performers including Ani DiFranco, Elvis Costello and Meshell Ndegeocello.
Reagon's first album, Justice, was released in 1990 through Flying Fish Records. Since then, she has released many solo albums, including her most recent SpiritLand in December 2018.
Her band, BIGLovely, has been performing since September 1996. The name BIGLovely comes from a term Reagon's girlfriend used to address her in a letter. The band includes Judith Casselberry on acoustic guitar and vocals, Robert "Chicken" Burke on drums, Fred Cass, Jr. on bass, Adam Widoff on electric guitar, and Catherine Russell on mandolin and vocals. The line-up also includes Jen Leigh, Ann Klein, Debbie Robinson, Allison Miller, Kismet Lyles and Stephanie McKay as substitutes.
Parable of the Sower Opera
On April 26, 2019, Reagon's Parable of the Sower rock-opera, based on the novel by Octavia Butler, was performed at the O'Shaughnessy Auditorium in Saint Paul, Minnesota. The performance, created and written by Toshi Reagon and Bernice Reagon, and directed by Eric Ting, included over 20 singers, actors, and musicians. Reagon has been a big fan of Octavia Butler's works and her themes of Afrofuturism and the eerily similar political climates led Reagon to create the opera. In relation to the differences between the novel and the opera, Reagon notes:
"We had to make the opera different because the book is enormous. We wanted to focus on the idea of two communities: one that you are born into and that holds you. The second is an unknown community that you find and who finds you. We thought it should start with this known intimate community and then tell the story by bringing the entire theater and audience into that community. That is why the lights are up at the start of the performance. We wanted audiences to experience a comfortable space and then have the experience of watching things get uncomfortable. We decided to show how fragile we become when we hold on to something when it's time to change."
Reagon's "congregational opera" was first performed in 2015 at both the Public Theater’s Under the Radar Festival and at The Arts Center at NYU Abu Dhabi (NYUAD) in 2017.
Studio and live albums
- 1990 Justice, Flying Fish Records
- 1994 The Rejected Stone, PRO-MAMMA LP's
- 1997 Kindness, Smithsonian Folkways
- 1999 The Righteous Ones, Razor and Tie
- 2001 Africans in America Soundtrack w/Bernice Johnson Reagon, Various artists. Ryco
- 2002 TOSHI, Razor and Tie
- 2004 I Be Your Water, limited self-release
- 2005 Have You Heard, Righteous Babe Records
- 2008 Until We’re Done, self-release
- 2009 Lava: We Become, self-release
- 2010 There and Back Again, self-release
- 2018 SpirtLand, self release
- Shout Sister Shout, a tribute to Sister Rosetta Thorpe and Respond II
- Dreaming Wide Awake, Lizz Wright with Toshi Reagon: Vocals
- Real Music, Chocolate Genius with Toshi Reagon: Vocals
- Raise Your Voice, Sweet Honey In The Rock collaboration with Toshi Reagon and BIGLovely
- Africans In America, Rycodisc, Toshi Reagon: Musician, Composer and Associate Producer
- The Temptation of Saint Anthony
- Every Mother Counts Starbucks
- The Temptation of Saint Anthony Studio Cast Recording, Songtalk Music, 2006
- Sweet Honey in the Rock: The Women Gather, 30th Anniversary, Earthbeat Records, 2003
- Sweet Honey in the Rock: Sacred Ground, Earthbeat Records, 1995. Co-produced with Bernice Johnson Reagon
- Sweet Honey in the Rock: In This Land, Earthbeat Records, 1992. Co-produced with Bernice Johnson Reagon
She also appeared on the TV show The L Word in the last episode of the fourth season, where she sings a song on the beach at Tasha's party.
Awards and recognition
- 2015 Ford Foundation Art of Change Fellow
- 2009 Out Music Award
- 2007 Black Lily Award for Outstanding Performance
- 2004 New York Foundation for the Arts award for music composition
Reagon, a lesbian, lives in Brooklyn, New York with her partner and their adopted daughter.