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7 Great Native American Singers and Music Artists

Harry has been an online writer for many years. His articles examine New World history and its resulting traditions.

The Lakota Sioux rock band, Brule, has discovered more colorful stage theatrics and larger audiences.

The Lakota Sioux rock band, Brule, has discovered more colorful stage theatrics and larger audiences.

There's been a resurgence of Native American music in the past years. It's hard to say exactly how and why Native American musicians found a larger audience outside the traditional singing that has always existed at pow wows, potlucks, sings, and similar get-togethers. Nonetheless, beginning back in the turbulent 1960s, a handful of Native artists, such as Buffy Saint-Marie and Jim Pepper, lead a cultural renaissance that left a hefty mark on the pop music scene. Here are seven great artists that have helped shape music since the '60s.

7 Great Native American Musicians

  1. Buffy Ste-Marie
  2. Jim Pepper
  3. Ulali
  4. Robert Mirabal
  5. Butch Mudbone
  6. Brule Airo
  7. Shea

1. Buffy Ste-Marie: An Early 1960s Rebel

Buffy Ste-Marie was born on a Cree reserve in Saskatchewan, Canada, but shortly thereafter adopted by a Massachusetts family by the name of Ste.-Marie. After attending college in the Bay State, Buffy released her first album in 1964. The song featured in the video above, titled "He's Just an Indian Cowboy in the Rodeo," shines some light on the traditional side of Buffy, as she celebrates the modern-day reality that the horse culture and especially the rodeo is still very popular on the western reservations and reserves of the U.S. and Canada.

2. Jim Pepper: "Witchi Tai To"

In the late 1960s, Jim Pepper. an Oklahoma Native of the Kaw/Creek nations, recorded a song titled "Witchi Tai To". At the time, Pepper was a member of a larger band called Everything Is Everything. The song, complete with itsNative American title, actually originated as a peyote chant in the Native American Church. Much to the chagrin of some of the members of the peyote cult, the song was picked up, recorded and made popular by Mike Brewer and Tom Shipley of the British isles.

Though Jim Pepper passed away in 1992, the Oklahoma native still has a strong but loyal following that gathers together annually at the Jim Pepper Music Pepper in Oregon.

Ulali Performing with Robbie Robertson

3. Ulali: Up and Down the East Coast

Ulali was originally a three women trio with a strong Tuscarora emphasis. They are still performing today, though this group has expanded a bit from the original three. The video above features the group performing with Robbie Robertson.

What Happened to Robbie Robertson?

After the breakup of The Band in 1976, members of the five-piece group went into seclusion with each musician going their own way. One of the band members, Robbie Robertson, returned to his Iroquois (Mohawk) roots, eventually releasing several albums and putting together the soundtrack for a cable television documentary, simply called The Native Americans. This soundtrack became an album entitled Songs From the Native Americans.

Following is Robertson's video about the untimely death of fellow band member, Richard Manuel, who died in 1986 in Florida.

4. Robert Mirabal: Starting Out Small

Robert Mirabal started out small selling Native American flutes in the vicinity of his home in northern New Mexico. Since that time he has expanded greatly, even putting together some lively dance and music performances for PBS, as seen here in The Painted Cave. This video captures very well Mirabal's great skill in combining modern music styles with the old traditional dances.

5. Butch Mudbone: Singing and Living the Blues

Butch Mudbone has been singing and living the blues for many years. First as a street singer and band leader in New Orleans, Butch now lives in Tennessee. In the past, Butch has been featured at the NAMA awards.

6. Brule Airo: Song from the Sioux

No Native American music survey would be complete without a voice from one of the Sioux Nations. Brule is a Lakota rock-style band that is also an integral part of AIRO, which stands for American Indian Rock Opera. Here they are onstage doing a strong musical interpretation of the a vision quest.

Seminole Wind was originally written by John Anderson, as a tribute to his home state of Florida and the Seminole Nation, which can be found in the southern tip near the Everglades National Park. Not only did the popular tune gain a large following among C&W fans in the U.S. and Canada, but also, it was picked up and re-released by a Seminole singer, Shea and a tribal back-up band.

At the Native American Music Awards

Chances are, not many people are aware of the Native American Music Awards. They don't get the big TV audiences that the Grammys do, but nonetheless, the get-together is home to some entertaining performers. In the video above, Bill Miller, Mary Youngblood and Joanne Shenandoah do a song from the third NAMA festival, which was held in 2016.

Brandis Knudsen, a Yankton Sioux from SD, shows off his 2017 Nammy Award

Brandis Knudsen, a Yankton Sioux from SD, shows off his 2017 Nammy Award

The Innu Nikamu Festival is a Native music festival held in northern Quebec every August

The Innu Nikamu Festival is a Native music festival held in northern Quebec every August

Are You Too Cool to Care?

Now that we are well into the 21st century, ecological issues are just as relevant as ever, perhaps even more so. Back in the early 1990s, this four-piece New Mexico-based band released this song that received limited airplay in the Southwest. Including two members of the Taos Pueblo, along with one musician from the Sioux Nations and another band member from south-of-the border, Red Thunder proved that Native musicians could create stirring popular music.

On the Johnny Cash Show

Johnny Cash was never too discreet about hiding his Arkansas Cherokee heritage. Here, he teams up with Flip Wilson to deliver a humorous attempt at this Woody Guthrie classic, Oklahoma Hills.

© 2018 Harry Nielsen


CaribTales on April 22, 2018:

Thank you for bringing these songs and artists to our attention. We should all participate in prolonging the Native American traditions.