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Joanne Shenandoah (1957–2021), Native American singer-songwriter

by Linnea Crowther

Joanne Shenandoah was a singer and songwriter celebrated as “Native America’s musical matriarch.”

Grammy-winning career

Shenandoah was a member of the Oneida Indian Nation and grew up on the Oneida Reservation in New York. She was a direct descendant of the 18th-century tribal chief Skenandoa. Through her work, Shenandoah brought her culture to the mainstream U.S. audience, performing in both English and her native language and mixing style including folk, pop, and New Age with her traditional tunes. She won a record-setting 14 Native American Music Awards, as well as winning a Grammy Award for her tracks on the 2005 album “Sacred Ground: A Tribute to Mother Earth.” Shenandoah performed at notable venues including the White House, Carnegie Hall, and St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican during the 2012 canonization of the first Native American saint, Kateri Tekakwitha.

Notable quote

“My family always taught me to be proud that I was an Iroquois woman and the importance of what our culture had to offer us. I’ve always sung — my native name is Tekaliwa khwa, which means ‘she sings.’ I was given that [name] as a little girl — the elders know what they are doing. In the Iroquois way, singing — listening and performing to music — is a healing force, an integral part of our society.” —from a 200 interview for Cultural Survival

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Tributes to Joanne Shenandoah

Full obituary: The Washington Post

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