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Joanne Shenandoah, Leading Native American Musician, Dies at 64

She performed with Willie Nelson and Neil Young and for the Dalai Lama and Nelson Mandela.

“Joanne is to contemporary Native American music what Aretha Franklin, Etta James, or Billie Holiday are to their respective genres,” Ed Koban, a Native American Music Award nominee and Mohawk tribal member, told Native News Online. “A timeless and elegant voice that did not need vocal tricks or gymnastics, instead was gentle, soft and pure.”

Ms. Shenandoah recorded a track for Robbie Robertson’s 1998 album “Contact From the Underworld of Redboy.” “She weaves you into a trance with her beautiful Iroquois chants,” Mr. Robertson said of her singing, “and wraps her voice around you like a warm blanket on a cool winter’s night.”

With her music, along with the content of her lyrics, she sought to counter centuries of mistreatment and marginalization of Native Americans; she also pleaded for her listeners to protect the earth, and she hoped to offer solace to the soul.

In “Prophecy Song,” she calls on her listeners to awaken: “We are now reminded to be aware of our place upon this earth,” she intones, “and to fulfill our obligations to ourselves, our families, nations, the natural world and to the Creator.”

Joanne Lynn Shenandoah was born on June 23, 1957, in Syracuse, N.Y. Her mother, Maisie (Winder) Shenandoah, was an artist, and her father, Clifford Shenandoah, was an iron worker who raised the family on the Oneida Reservation, just east of Syracuse. Her ancestors included Chief Skenandoa (the spelling varies), an ally to George Washington during the American Revolution.

Joanne may have been destined to be a singer from birth; her Oneida Wolf Clan name, Tekaliwakwha, means “she sings.” But as she grew into adulthood, she planned to become a businesswoman. For a time, she sang only informally, at weddings and funerals.

Apsny News English

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