Category Archives: Native Americans

Jazz Vocalist Mildred Bailey

Jazz Vocalist Mildred Bailey

Remembering, recognizing, and appreciating
February 27, 1903 – December 12, 1951

Jazz Vocalist Mildred Bailey

Given our culture’s propensity to caricature Native Americans as noble savages stuck in a stone age, the notion that they have had a significant contribution to popular music is surprising.

It should not be so.

Jazz Vocalist Mildred Bailey

Background

Jazz Vocalist Mildred Bailey

Mildred Bailey’s mother was a Coeur d’Alene Native American and Mildred, born Mildred Rinker, lived her early life on their reservation in Idaho which is about an hour’s drive south of Spokane, Washington.

She had shown an early aptitude for music, playing the family piano throughout her childhood. Around 1913 her family moved to Spokane, but after her mother passed away in 1916, she was sent to live with an aunt in Seattle. As a teenager there she earned money playing in silent-movie houses and demonstrating sheet music for customers at Woolworth’s Department Store.

Jazz Vocalist Mildred Bailey

Los Angeles

She found some singing success there and moved to Hollywood to seek more.

Mildred Bailey (she  kept his name because it sounded more American than the German-Rinker) did find more success there. A white woman singing jazz was unusual. A white woman because she hid the fact that she was also a Native American.

Jazz Vocalist Mildred Bailey

Brother Al and friend Bing

Mildred’s brother Al played piano.  Al met Bing Crosby in Seattle and the two teamed up.  They eventually went to Los Angeles like Al’s sister and they, too, found a bit of luck when New York band-leader, Paul “The King of Jazz” Whiteman — invited them to become part of  Paul Whiteman’s Rhythm Boys.

In 1929, Rinker introduced Mildred to Whitman who hired her. With that job, Mildred Bailey became first national-level orchestra to feature a female vocalist, Bailey cut her debut recording, “What Kind O’ Man Is You,” for Columbia.

It was in 1932 that Bailey found national success. She debuted  the song “Ol’ Rockin’ Chair’s Got Me.” The song became such a big hit that she became known as the “Rockin’ Chair Lady.”

Jazz Vocalist Mildred Bailey

Mildred Baily


A historyling article said that, “Bailey… gained attention by recording tunes with the same top players who backed Billie Holiday’s classic sessions — and plenty of people took notice of her trail-blazing ways when she began fronting an all-black combo, Mildred Bailey and Her Oxford Browns. Bailey also married jazzman, Red Norvo, they became known as “Mr. and Mrs. Swing,” and his combo backed her on a series of fine hits.”

She and Norvo divorced, but career continued successfully.  She performed at top New York nightclubs and had her own CBS radio series in 1944

Jazz Vocalist Mildred Bailey

Still Unknown

To most people,  Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, and Tony Bennet are household names, but the name Mildred Bailey is not. It is ironic because it was she who influenced their styles.

Bailey suffered from diabetes and she was often forced to put her singing career on hold while she recovered her strength. She died on December 12, 1951 in  Poughkeepsie, NY from a heart attack.

  • In 1989, Bailey was inducted into the Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame.
  • In 1994, the US Postal Service issued a 29-cent stamp her honor. The stamp incorrectly has her birth year as 1907.
Jazz Vocalist Mildred Bailey
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Activist Buffy Sainte Marie

Activist Buffy Sainte Marie

Happy birthday

Buffy Sainte-Marie was born on February 20, 1941 on the Piapot Cree First Nation reserve in the Qu’Appelle Valley, Saskatchewan. 

If you are familiar with her, then you are certainly familiar with her most famous song, Universal Soldier which Vanguard Records  originally released on Sainte-Marie’s debut album It’s My Way! in 1964.

Neither the album nor the song were successful until Donovan covered Universal Soldier on a UK EP.  That success led to a US single release of his cover which had enough success that Sainte-Marie finally got a bit of the spotlight.

Activist Buffy Sainte Marie

Early musician

Although born in Canada, after the untimely deaths of both parents, relatives Albert and Winifred Sainte-Marie, who lived in Massachusetts adopted her. They nicknamed her Buffy.

In a 2015 Vogue interview, Sainte-Marie said that, “As a little kid when I was three, I discovered a piano and I found out it made noise and I was fascinated and taught myself how to do what I wanted to do on it. I could play fake Beethoven, and do other things with strange chords that other people didn’t use but that I liked. I banged on pots and pans, I’d play with rubber bands, I’d blow on grass, I played the mouth bow.”

Activist Buffy Sainte Marie

Education

Sainte-Marie attended the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. In a 2009 Democracy Now interview, she told Amy Goodman that while there, “…I started playing songs for the girls in my dorm and my housemother Theresa de Kerpely, who was from Europe. She really encouraged me, and she encouraged me to listen to people like Edith Piaf, Carmen Amaya, the flamenco dancer-singer, people from other countries. So, from the start of playing for other people, I was absorbing and reflecting, I think, a very wide world culture. International students at the university were a big influence on me.”

Activist Buffy Sainte Marie

Greenwich Village

Like so many other thoughtful singers of that time, Sainte-Marie went to Greenwich Village, but because of its New York location, “…she [would] go up to Akwesasne, the Mohawk reservation…. And it kind of became the paradigm of my life. I wasn’t intentionally trying to become a bridge for anything, but I did see that people in the cities, they wanted to know. “

Activist Beverly Buffy Sainte Marie

In 1965 Vanguard released Many a Mile, her second album. Her song “Until It’s Time for Your To Go.”  It became her most commercially successful single because so many have covered it including Elvis,  Cher, Bobby Darrin, Andy Williams, Glen Cam;bell, Jim Nabors, Nancy Sinatra, Petula Clark, Shirley Bassey, Willie Nelson, Barbara Streisand, and a “few” others including Neil Diamond. 

Activist Buffy Sainte Marie

Not mainstream

Despite that commercial success, Buffy Sainte-Marie was no pop star. Her aim was and continues to be more than 50 years later: raise awareness of necessary social changes, particularly the area of Native Americans.

In 1966 her third album,  Little Wheel Spin and Spin,  featured her
“My Country ‘Tis of Thy People You’re Dying.”

Now that your big eyes have finally opened,

Now that you’re wondering how must they feel,

Meaning them that you’ve chased across America’s movie screens.

Now that you’re wondering how can it be real

That the ones you’ve called colorful, noble and proud

In your school propaganda

They starve in their splendor?

You’ve asked for my comment I simply will render:

My country ’tis of thy people you’re dying.

Activist Buffy Sainte Marie

Actor

According to the director Leo Penn, before she agreed to be a part of an episode of the popular TV show The Virginian she insisted “the studio cast Native actors for all the Indian parts (‘No Indians, no Buffy’). She also advocated that the writers bring complexity to her own role. She told them, ‘[I’m] not interested in playing Pocahontas.'”

Activist Buffy Sainte Marie

Nihewan Foundation

In 1969 She founded the Nihewan Foundation which “is a small private non-profit foundation dedicated improving the education of and about Native American people and cultures. 

Activist Buffy Sainte Marie

Sesame Street

In 1976 she became a part of Sesame Street and in a TV first was shown explaining breastfeeding to Big Bird while nursing her son Cody.

Activist Buffy Sainte Marie

Oscar

She left Sesame Street in 1981 and in 1982 co-wrote  “Up Where We Belong,” the theme song to the film An Officer and a Gentleman, with Will Jennings. The song won an Best Song Oscar. 

Sainte-Marie donated the Oscar to the Smithsonian as it was the first time that a Native American had won one.

Activist Buffy Sainte Marie

20th into the 21st Century

Buffy Sainte-Marie has never stood still and has always expanded her artistic panorama far beyond that of music. A 2016 Canadian Broadcasting Corporation article listed 75 Things You Need To Know…about her.

And her own site lists the dozens of awards and honorary degrees others have given to her recognizing her lifetime of peace, love, and activism.

On November 10, 2017 she released her latest album, Medicine Songs. She described the album as, “…a collection of front line songs about unity and resistance — some brand new and some classics — and I want to put them to work. These are songs I’ve been writing for over fifty years, and what troubles people today are still the same damn issues from 30-40-50 years ago: war, oppression, inequity, violence, rankism of all kinds, the pecking order, bullying, racketeering and systemic greed. Some of these songs come from the other side of that: positivity, common sense, romance, equity and enthusiasm for life.”

Many happy returns Buffy

Activist Buffy Sainte Marie
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Native American John Trudell

Native American John Trudell

Remembering, recognizing, and appreciating

John Trudell

February 15, 1946 — December 8, 2015

Native American Activist John Trudell

When I  watched the documentary RUMBLE: The Indians Who Rocked the World I learned a lot about the mostly unknown but impressive role of Native Americans in popular music history. (movie site).

While watching this worthwhile film, I kept thinking, well there’s another person I should include a piece about at my site.

As a self-described music buff, I am embarrassed to say that several of the musicians featured I hardly knew. (Not to pop my bubble completely, though, I was happy that I did have records of a few.)

John Trudell was one of those featured whom I’d not known.

Native American John Trudell

Early life

Trudell was born in Omaha, Nebraska, and grew up on and around the nearby Santee Sioux reservation. His father was a Santee, his mother’s tribal roots were in Mexico.. She died when he was 6.

He left high school and, as Native Americans had done since the first European wars on Native American land, Trudell volunteered to join the US military. He served in the US Navy from 1963 to 1967.

While there ,  as Native Americans in the military had experienced since those colonial times, he saw the dominant white society’s bias against minorities like Blacks, women, and, of course, Native Americans.

Native American John Trudell

Alcatraz Island

Native American John Trudell
Hopi men from Oraibi, Arizona sent to Alcatraz, 1895. Photograph by Isaiah W. Taber. (Credit Mennonite Library and Archives Bethel College, North Newton, KS)

The island and its use as a prison was a symbol of the US government’s deliberate and ongoing exclusion of Native Americans from becoming self realized within the dominant white society.

As far back as  1895, the government had imprisoned Hopi leaders there for their refusal to send their children to white schools to become culturally white and have their Hopi culture eradicated.

On March 8, 1964 a group of Sioux demonstrators affiliated with a San Francisco organization known as Indians of All Tribes (IAT) occupied Alcatraz Island for four hours.

Native American John Trudell

Out of the Navy

After the military, he became an activist and joined the Indians of All Tribes Occupation of Alcatraz Island (ACT).

September 29, 1969, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors approved a plan to turn the Federal prison site of Alcatraz Island into a monument to the US space program. 

10 days later, on October 9,  the American Indian Center in San Francisco burned down. It had been a meeting place that served 30,000 Indian people with social programs. The loss of the center focuses Indian attention on taking over Alcatraz for use as a new facility. 

After an overnight takeover of Alcatraz on November 9 a permanent takeover occurred on November 20. Seventy-nine Native-Americans seized control. The Indians of All Tribes claimed that the island belonged to Native Americans under the 1868 Treaty of Ft. Laramie, which provided for the return of all abandoned federal property to Native-Americans.

Native American John Trudell

Radio Free Alcatraz

John Trudell ran a radio station called Radio Free Alcatraz from the occupation.

The occupation lasted until June 11, 1970. Although the occupation itself did not reach its goal of returning the island to the Native Americans, the successful occupation did help foster Native American activism which John Trudell would be a part of for the rest of his life.

Native American John Trudell

A life of activism

As a part of the American Indian Movement (AIM) he joined the 1972 Trail of Broken Treaties event when, the week before election day, caravans pulled into Washington, D.C., to present federal policymakers with solutions to the myriad problems in Native America. Within 24 hours, the group took over took over the Bureau of Indian Affairs building and held it for six days.

He was part of the 1973 Liberation/Occupation of Wounded Knee village by AIM as well as becoming the national spokesperson for AIM, a position that he held until 1979.

On February 12,  1979 a fire burned down his home on the Shoshone Palute reservation in Nevada. The fire killed his wife Tina, three children, and Tina’s mother.  The fire was ruled an accident.

Native American John Trudell

Spoken wordNative American John Trudell

In his grief, Trudell began writing and publishing poetry. It became his greatest strength and, to the US government, a threat.

The FBI investigated him.  From Newtopian magazine:  “there is a quote from an FBI memo that says as much about our dysfunctional government as it does about John Trudell: “He is extremely eloquent…therefore extremely dangerous.” John is a great poet, not just because of his eloquence, not only because of his personal history (much of the tragedy of which the FBI caused), but because of the depth of his philosophy and consciousness.”

Trailer to a the Trudell documentary:

Native American John Trudell

Music

Native American Activist John Trudell

Kiowa guitarist Jesse Ed Davis  contacted Trudell and offered to put his poetry to music. They recorded three albums: AKA Graffiti Man was released in 1986,  followed by But This Isn’t El Salvador and Heart Jump Bouquet, both in 1987.

Bob Dylan said that “AKA GRAFITTI MAN [was] the best album of 1986. Only people like Lou Reed and John Doe can dream about doing work like this.”

He continued to release albums even after the untimely death of Davis in  1988 (AllMusic discography).

He continued to release poetry and as a spokesman of the American Indian.

Native American John Trudell

In 2008,  Fulcrum Publishing released Lines from a Mined Mind: The Words of John Trudella collection of 25 years of poetry, lyrics and essays.

His site has a 12 minute video history about him. It’s a great summary.

Native American John Trudell

Walked

The Indian Country media site reportedJohn Trudell, noted activist, poet and Native thinker, walked on December 8, 2015,  after a lengthy bout with cancer. His family included some of his last messages to Indian country in a press release. Among them: “I want people to remember me as they remember me.”

Native American John Trudell
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