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Michigan State University

Native American Studies Research Guide: Music


A collection of resources related to Native American music.

LC Subject Headings

Try the following subject headings in the online catalog:

Indians of North America - Music

Indian musicians

Selected Resources

American Song (Also known as Music Online : American Song).  Alexander Street Press. "American Song is a history database that will contain 50,000 tracks that allows people to hear and feel the music from America's past. The database will include songs by and about American Indians, miners, immigrants, slaves, children, pioneers, and cowboys. Included in the database are the songs of Civil Rights, political campaigns, Prohibition, the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, anti-war protests and more."  Access restricted to subscribers and the MSU community. 

Encyclopedia of Native American music of North America / Elaine Keillor, Tim Archambault, and John M. H. Kelly.  Santa Barbara, Calif. : Greenwood, 2013.  449pp.  Fine Arts Music Collection ML102.N37 K45 2013 : Documents the surprisingly varied musical practices among North America's First Peoples, both historically and in the modern context. It supplies a detailed yet accessible and approachable overview of the substantial contributions and influence of First Peoples that can be appreciated by both native and nonnative audiences, regardless of their familiarity with musical theory....The entries address how ethnomusicologists with Native American heritage are revolutionizing approaches to the discipline, and showcase how musicians with First Peoples' heritage are influencing modern musical forms including native flute, orchestral string playing, gospel, and hip hop. The work represents a much-needed academic study of First Peoples' musical cultures—a subject that is of growing interest to Native Americans as well as nonnative students and readers.

The Encyclopedia of Native Music : More Than a Century of Recordings From Wax Cylinder to the Internet / Brian Wright-McLeod ; illustrated with photographs and album covers.  Tucson : The University of Arizona Press, c2005.  450pp.  Fine Arts Music Collection ML156.4.I5 W75 2005: The Encyclopedia of Native Music recognizes the multifaceted contributions made by Native recording artists by tracing the history of their commercially released music. It provides an overview of the surprising abundance of recorded Native music while underlining its historical value, organized by genre for quick reference....With almost 1,800 entries spanning over 100 years, this book leads readers from early performers of traditional songs like William Horncloud to artists of the new millennium such as Zotigh. Along the way, it includes entries for jazz and blues artists never widely acknowledged for their Native roots - Oscar Pettiford, Mildred Bailey, and Keely Smith - and traces the recording histories of contemporary performers like Rita Coolidge and Jimmy Carl Black, "the Indian of the group" in the original Mothers of Invention. It also includes film soundtracks and compilation albums that have been instrumental in bringing many artists to popular attention. In addition to music, it lists spoken word recordings including audio books, comedy, interviews, poetry, and more.

Great Lake Indians. Preservation recording in the Vincent Voice Library.  Source : Ethnic Folkways Library, 1956.   Songs and dances of Great Lakes Indians. Ojibwa, Ottawa, Algonquin, Onondaga, Cayuga/Tutelo, and Seneca songs and dances.

Indian Blues : American Indians and the Politics of Music, 1879-1934 / John W. Troutman.  Norman : University of Oklahoma Press, c2009.  323pp.  Main Library E98.D2 T76 2009 : Troutman  considers the politics of music on Indian reservations, off-reservation boarding schools, and public venues at the turn of the twentieth century, as the US government--notably the Office of Indian Affairs--tried to control the musical practices of American Indians as part of their goal to assimilate them, while Indian musicians resisted their efforts. Using the opening of the Carlisle Indian School in 1879 and the passage of the Indian Reorganization Act in 1934 as beginning and ending points, he explores how Native Americans, government officials, and non-Indian audiences used musical practice to shape federal Indian policy, including to reinforce tribal identities and conversely to shape government ideas of Indian citizens in boarding schools. Focusing on musical practice, he examines Lakota Omaha Dances, brass marching bands, the impact of the press and popular cultural trends on efforts to suppress dancing, and art and semiclassical music, as well as five professional Native musicians who adapted their musical training to their own goals, such as Tsianina Redfeather Blackstone, Joe Morris, and Dennison Wheelock.

Music of the First Nations : Tradition and Innovation In Native North American / edited by Tara Browner.  Urbana : University of Illinois Press, c2009.  166pp.  Fine Arts Music Collection ML3557 .M87 2009 : This unique anthology presents a wide variety of approaches to an ethnomusicology of Inuit and Native North American musical expression. Contributors include Native and non-Native scholars who provide erudite and illuminating perspectives on aboriginal culture, incorporating both traditional practices and contemporary musical influences. Gathering scholarship on a realm of intense interest but little previous publication, this collection promises to revitalize the study of Native music in North America, an area of ethnomusicology that stands to benefit greatly from these scholars' cooperative, community-oriented methods.

Omaha Indian Music.  Omaha Indian Music features traditional Omaha music from the 1890s and 1980s. The multiformat ethnographic field collection contains 44 wax cylinder recordings collected by Francis La Flesche and Alice Cunningham Fletcher between 1895 and 1897, 323 songs and speeches from the 1983 Omaha harvest celebration pow-wow, and 25 songs and speeches from the 1985 Hethu'shka Society concert at the Library of Congress. Segments from interviews with members of the Omaha tribe conducted in 1983 and 1999 provide contextual information for the songs and speeches included in the collection.

YouTube Selections

Apache Mountain Spirit Dance  (3:32 minutes) : The Apache Indians are perhaps one of the best-known tribes in America. The Apache tribes include the Plains Apache (Oklahoma), the Lipan Apache (Texas), Western Apache (Arizona), Chiricahua Apache (Arizona/New Mexico), Jicarilla Apache (New Mexico), and the Mescalero Apache (New Mexico)....They were a powerful and warlike tribe, known to be fast to defend their homeland, on account of the tactics of the struggle sometimes referred to as ninja of Southwest.The U.S. Army, in their various confrontations, found them to be fierce warriors and skillful strategists.The Apache and the Navajo spoke a similar dialect from the language known as Athabaskan. Linguistic similarities indicate the Navajo and Apache were once a single ethnic group. The Apaches were typically nomadic, meaning they traveled around, never quite settling in one place. It has been said that they were one of the first tribes to learn how to ride and use horses. Chiricahua Apaches, who had a very strong cultural sense of belonging, jealously guarding their religion and their way of life.From morning to night, from birth to death, the act of Apaches accompanied the rites and prayers. During the healing rituals and dances of war, individual prayer coincided with the collective benefit of all. The ceremonies are called " dances." Among these are the 'rain dance', a 'puberty right', a 'harvest' and 'good crop' dance, and a 'spirit dance'...."Mountain Spirit Dance"- Spirits of the Mountains came in the form of the dancers to renew the ancient covenant with the people N'de. Both the dancers and their dances are of great symbolic importance because they are the mysthic dancers Gan.During a secret ceremony in the mountains imposed ritual masks, and the shaman painted on their bodies sacred symbols. From that moment on, deprived of the face and the names, became the epitome of Spirit Mountain and possessed of great power. They came to a ritual dance during ward off evil forces and bring good, to protect the tribe from disease and ensure its prosperity.Performed dances to the rhythm of the songs of shamans, beating drums and ringing bells are dynamic and require extraordinary physical and spiritual strength. Movements of bodies painted , symbolic gestures holy wands in the shape of swords or crosses, masked faces and elaborate designs on their heads timber packs are delightful.Voices of the singers, rumbling of drums and dancers's ecstasy have a profound the spiritual dimension in which manifested great power of Spirits Mountains. Dancing and singing to pay tribute to the great mystery.The music for dance is sung by the warriors, and accompanied by beating the esadadedne (buck-skin-on-a-hoop). No words are sung - only the tones. The songs have a few words, but are not formal. The singer will occasionally put in such words as he wished instead of the usual tone sound.

Cherokee War Dance (1:19 minutes)

Drums of Thunder Mountain Spirits (3:13 minutes)

Spirit Medicine Healing Song (Lakota) (5:39 minutes)

Songs of the Journey: Four Songs of the Anishinaabe.   Songs of the Journey is a cycle of four traditional songs of the Ojibwe (Chippewa) people. Ethnomusicologist Frances Densmore collected hundreds of traditional Ojibwe melodies near the beginning of the 20th century, and I chose four of them as the themes for a set of contemporary choral pieces, which portray the four cycles of life in the Ojibwe medicine wheel. Each song depicts a different season, a different time of day, and a different stage of human development.  Central Michigan University Concert Choir.

Subject Guide

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