Remembering Joanne Shenandoah, queen of Native American music (Visitor Opinion by Ellen Bello)

Ellen Bello, of New York, is founder and president of the Native American Music Awards & Affiliation (

Each music style has its rightfully appointed Queen. Dolly Parton for nation, Aretha Franklin for soul, Madonna for pop, Ella Fitzgerald for jazz, and by all accounts, Joanne Shenandoah for Native American music.

Born on June 23, 1957, in Syracuse, New York, Joanne Shenandoah was a member of the Wolf Clan of the Oneida Nation, of the Haudenosaunee Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy. She journeyed to the spirit world on Nov. 22, 2021, at age 64. Her daughter, Leah Shenandoah, and husband, Doug George-Kanentiio, had been by her aspect in demise as they had been in life.

It’s with nice sorrow and profound disappointment that I share within the latest lack of a music matriarch who I additionally thought-about a beloved buddy. I stay deeply grateful to have identified Joanne for over 20 years. Introduced collectively by music, and as residents of New York, her help for my work by no means waned, nor mine for hers. Irrespective of when or the place, she was a continuing, along with her lovely, magnificent voice and eloquent and sleek presence. Her coronary heart was large and her need to make a greater world for all of us was even higher.

Joanne was an plain nationwide expertise, an achieved recording artist, a worldwide peacekeeper, a music matriarch and a lot extra. She launched over 15 albums and quite a few extra recordings and collaborations. She flawlessly integrated her oral traditions into up to date people, new age, nation and Americana codecs. Singing in each English and in Iroquois, she undoubtedly helped outline and form up to date Native American music in the USA.

A multi-instrumentalist, Joanne’s voice was a spectacular instrument unto itself. Robust and clear, soothing and calm, dimensional and delightful on each be aware in any vary, she was merely mesmerizing. As a baby, she was appropriately given the identify “Tekaliwakwha,” which interprets to “she sings, and lifts the spirit.” She’s going to stay probably the most critically acclaimed Native American singer/songwriter of our time and one of the prolific Indigenous performers of our period.

My particular recollections of Joanne are of her performing stay on the inaugural Native American Music Awards in Connecticut, celebrating the primary class for Native American music along with her on the Grammys in Los Angeles and her final look on the awards present, waving goodbye onstage in Niagara Falls, New York.

In 1998, I produced the first-ever Native American Music Awards at Foxwoods Resort on line casino, which additionally marked the primary time a Native-owned on line casino featured a night of Native American expertise. Wayne Newton was the host; on the time, he owned a ranch named Casa de Shenandoah. He launched Joanne for her efficiency. Standing stoically, in a surprising and glistening silver-beaded costume, accompanied by her sister Diane, Joanne calmly and confidently opened her section talking of the Iroquois prophecy of the tree of peace. She then delivered a spellbinding and flawless rendition of her music “When the Eagle Cries.” After her efficiency, everybody within the room felt that that they had simply skilled one thing actually spectacular and particular. Joanne later shared with me that she felt that her ancestors had been onstage along with her performing. I had little doubt it was true.

Joanne gained two awards that night — the primary of many extra to come back. “Music is a therapeutic pressure. It lifts our spirits, lifts our souls and it has allowed us to proceed as native folks,” she mentioned in her acceptance speech. So far, she is probably the most celebrated matriarch in Native American music. She is also probably the most honored, with a complete of 14 Native American Music Awards, together with a Lifetime Achievement Award — probably the most ever awarded to a singular artist. Her accolades included Greatest Youngsters’s Recording, Greatest Conventional Recording, Greatest Music Video, Greatest Producer, and a number of awards for Greatest Feminine Artist, Greatest New Age Recording, Greatest Compilation and Artist of the Yr.

In 2000, I helped create the primary Grammy Awards class for Native American Music (which is now a Regional Roots class). Joanne grew to become one of many first nominees in that class along with her album “Peacemaker’s Journey.” She attended the Grammys that yr along with her mom, Maisie, sister Diane and daughter, Leah, who had been all wearing lovely white buckskin clothes. In 2004, she earned a second Grammy nomination for her album “Covenant.” The subsequent yr, she was a part of a Grammy win for the compilation recording she contributed to entitled “Sacred Floor: A Tribute to Mom Earth,” produced by Jim Wilson.

Whether or not performing as a solo artist or as a trio with Leah and Diane, Joanne was at all times busy and graced many phases. She carried out on the Olympics, the twenty fifth Anniversary of Woodstock, the White Home, Carnegie Corridor, Madison Sq. Backyard, the Smithsonian, presidential inaugurations for Invoice Clinton and George W. Bush, and even the canonization of Kateri Tekakwitha (Algonquin–Mohawk), the primary Roman Catholic Native American saint in Rome, Italy.

Her music has been featured on varied tv packages, together with “Northern Publicity” and the Discovery Channel’s “How the West Was Misplaced.” She and her husband, Doug, wrote the e book “Skywoman: Legends of the Iroquois,” about Iroquois historical past and tradition. She later composed a CD for a similar work with a full orchestra. I truly gave a set of Skywoman to my daughter’s fifth grade instructor once they had been instructing concerning the Iroquois in school.

As a humanitarian and peace advocate, Joanne met and carried out with Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Pete Seeger, Neil Younger and famous leaders such because the Dalai Lama and Nelson Mandela. Throughout the Obama administration, she was appointed the co-chair of the Process Power on American Indian and Alaska Native Youngsters Uncovered to Violence. Extra just lately, she and her husband established the Hiawatha Institute for Indigenous Data, designed to deliver sustainability and Iroquois cultural data to the world.

In her last look on the nineteenth Annual Native American Music Awards simply previous to the pandemic, Joanne, helped induct actor Wes Studi into the Corridor of Fame and carried out a music entitled, “Lacking You” in solidarity for Lacking and Murdered Indigenous Ladies and Women (MMIWG). A recorded model of the music seems on Joanne’s last album, “Shenandoah Nation,” which was launched simply this previous August.

Joanne’s daughter, Leah, just lately shared some touching movies of them singing collectively to welcome the start of Leah’s son and Joanne’s grandson, Ryder, and sadly, of mom and daughter singing collectively in a last music simply hours earlier than Joanne transitioned to the spirit realm. It’s arduous to think about our music group with out our most lovely and valuable music matriarch. Joanne’s highly effective presence, embellishing voice and unequivocal class might be enormously missed. She captured the hearts of audiences all around the world. She made an indelible influence on this Earth and has impressed and paved paths for therefore many. Her timeless reward of music stays for all of us eternally. Simply think about the grandeur now as she rejoicefully sings along with her ancestors on a stage within the stars.

Associated: Grammy-winning Oneida singer and activist Joanne Shenandoah dies at 64

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