O’siyo. Natives sing and chant for various reasons. For religious ceremonies, during social gatherings such as Powwows, and many times simply for the pure joy of singing! Each tribe has its own unique style and versions of songs and chants. Thanks to technology and to various groups of people, many traditional versions of Native singers and chants have been preserved, and new singers are being discovered. One such company that specializes in promoting Native music is Canyon Records. Created in 1951 by Ray and Mary Boley, in Phoenix, Arizona, Canyon Records has been producing Native music for 56 years. It was through them that many Native artists had (and still have) the opportunity to record and share their beautiful voices with the world!
“The Boley’s involvement with Native American music began when Ray was asked by the Phoenix Little Theater to record a Navajo singer named Ed Lee Natay. Boley was so taken with what he heard that he recorded a collection of songs titled Natay, Navajo Singer, an album still in active release (and earning royalties for Natay’s family). To promote the album, the Boleys took a booth at the 1951 Arizona State Fair. For most of the fairgoers, the recording was only a curiosity, but for Native Americans it was a revelation. They had never seen any of their music available on record before, and the album was well received within the Native community. Before the close of the fair, a Hopi jeweler at a booth next to the Boleys suggested they record Hopi music. The Boleys took the idea to heart and soon began recording music from tribes throughout the southwest. Their new label, Canyon Records, was a sister company to Canyon Films, a company also founded in 1951 specializing in documentaries and commercial work…
Boley made contact with a Native American flutist named R. Carlos Nakai(Boley had known Nakai’s father, Raymond Nakai, who played Canyon music on his Navajo language radio program before becoming Navajo tribal chairman). R. Carlos Nakai had produced a recording of solo flute music called Changes, and Boley asked to distribute it. Nakai, who had been turned down by several record labels, agreed and a new era in Native American music began…” Renown Native Flutist R.Carlos Nakai and Friends play “Improvisation for Native American Flute” at the Santa Fe Indian Market. Courtesy Canyon Records.
Ed Lee Natay was a Navajo singer from the 1940s, whose traditional singing style retained the classic Native chants. “I’ve Gone Ahead to a Better Life” is featured on the CD Natay, Navajo Singer, Canyon Records, 1996.*
Award winner Radmilla Cody performs her hauntingly personal song “A Beautiful Dawn” from her album Spirit of a Woman. For more on Radmilla Cody visit CanyonRecords.com.
Visit Canyon Records for a listing of all their wonderful Native artists
*Exclusive Producer: Robert Doyle, digital re-mastered and edited by Jack Miller Productions, Ph. Arizona. “Courtesy Canyon Records License 2011-075″
God sent his Singers upon earth, With songs of sadness and of mirth,
That they might touch the hearts of men, And bring them back to heaven again.
~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow~
Teachers will find free and Complete Lesson Plans with Answer Keys on the following U.S. tribes: Apache, Blackfeet, Cherokee, Choctaw, Crow, Iroquois, Kwakiutl, Mohawk (read about the fascinating “Sky Walkers”) Navajo, Shawnee, Sioux, and Zuni.
We also offer our unique and informative Tribalpedia which offers concise historical and current material about many Native tribes. Included are Discussion Questions for students.
Visit some our reader’s favorite posts! Many thanks.
There are many legends about how the Indians learned about the Talking Feather”. Here is one of them…
Long years ago, when gods walked this earth and the land beyond, Kanati and Asgaya Gigagei, were together enjoying the warm summer day. It was a day when the crickets chirrupted in the waving, green grass,when they noticed a figure moving towards them.
As the figure approached closer Kanati said “Look, that woman is crying, what could be the matter?” “I can not imagine why anyone would cry on such a glorious day.” Replied Asgaya Gigagei. “Let’s ask her.”
As the woman drew nearer, they could see her buckskin was decorated with beautiful designs and colors. She carried a bundle filled with leaves, sage, and colorful stones and feathers. They knew immediately this woman was a holy being.
Kanati asked her “Holy mother, why are you crying so?” The woman looked up in wonder, because she had been walking with her head down. “I’m crying because the men of my village are fighting constantly! Each thinks his ideas for leading the tribe is the best!” Kanati and Asgaya Gigagei glanced at one another, in perplexity. “Why, if there are so many good ideas for leading your tribe, why are the men fighting? And why aren’t you and the other members happy!” The poor woman shook her head sadly and replied, “Yes, you are right, the men do have very good ideas, but every man wants to speak his own ideas, and not listen to anyone else. They all shout and scream at one another so loudly, that it frightens the children who run and hide behind their mothers. The women are sad because their husbands come to the house upset and angry. Furthermore, the tribe is suffering, because no one can seem to make a decision.” Just then a beautiful Eagle was soaring overhead, Kanati called out “Brother Eagle, may I have one of your feathers, there are poor humans in desperate need!”
Bother Eagle replied “Yes” and shook himself until a single iridescent, large feather fell to the ground. “Many thanks and Blessings on you” said Kanati. Kanati made secret signs and prayers over the Feather. Asgaya Gigagei helped him with the blessings. Kanati then said to the woman “This is the sacred Talking Father, it holds great power for the one who holds it. Go back to your people, hold this feather up in the air, all who see it will fall silent, and listen to what you have to say. Tell all who listen that from now on, who ever holds this feather, all present within the Circle Council must listen to his words. The feather must then be passed on to the next speaker.”
The woman thanked Kanati and Asgaya Gigagei and hurried back to her village where there was total chaos!. Everyone was talking at once, children were crying, men were screaming at each other. As soon as she held the feather over her head, all became quiet! No one could utter a sound! the holy woman proceeded to give the directions given to her by the gods. She then passed the feather to the first man. He called the Talking Circle together, and each man had his say as he held the feather. From that time on that tribe flourished because they now had direction, and each person could hear and understand what their peers said. The people worked together, to build a great nation. Along the way, they shared the wonders of the Talking Feather with other tribes they met. “And that my friends is the true story of how the Talking Feather came to be!”