Navajo singer-songwriter Clarence "Clearwater" Toledo
Clarence David Toledo Jr., (Ashkiil bahe Niyaá), 71, of Williams, Ariz., was a man of story and song. The Diné singer-songwriter, also known as Clarence Clearwater, lived his life with a passion for justice and protecting mother earth, which he shared through his mirth and music. Clarence left us to join a chorus of angels on December 28, 2020.
Clarence was born August 15, 1949, in New Mexico to the Nakai Diné Clan on his mother's side and the Red House Clan on his father's side. He is survived by his wife, Kathleen Seekatz of Williams; children, Adakai and Cynthia Toledo of Albuquerque; Summer Toledo of Denver; Fashawna and Gilbert Toledo-Portillo of Denver; Dylan Toledo of Mesa, Arizona; sister, Dr. Eulynda Toledo of Grants, New Mexico; 13 grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.
He is preceded in death by his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Clarence Toledo Sr.; and sister, Dr. Kathryn Manuelito.
Clarence always had a joke on the tip of his tongue and a sparkle in his eyes. Many friends and family will continue to love and miss him, and the way he made each feel they had a special place in his heart.
At age six, Clarence was removed from his reservation home and put in a mission school to assimilate him into American culture by prohibiting Navajo culture. He spent the rest of his life rediscovering his traditional roots and building a music career to enlighten audiences to Native perspectives.
He studied music at Coe College in Iowa and at the New York Metropolitan Opera. He played guitar and sang professionally in numerous bands in New York City, including with Angelique and the Third World and Ruby and the Dykes. To learn more about Native music, he immersed himself in Native American life with the Lakota tribe and then returned to the Navajo Nation in New Mexico.
Clarence cultivated a unique sound by weaving classical, folk and indigenous music together. He learned traditional songs and brought them up to date with modern lyrics seeking fairness for humankind and protection for the land that continued to inspire him. He became proficient at singing in Spanish, French, German and in many indigenous languages.
He traveled the country sharing his Diné culture by performing at numerous museums and schools. In 2002, he worked with Northern Arizona University researching indigenous Seri tribe music in Mexico. Flagstaff residents will remember his many performances at the Museum of Northern Arizona and in downtown Heritage Square.
In 2005, Clarence climbed aboard the Grand Canyon Railway in Williams and became the first Native American among the strolling cowboy musicians on train trips to the canyon. Clarence not only sang in different languages to the world-wide travelers, he enlightened passengers to the Native American perspectives of the Grand Canyon, a place where he felt at home.
A celebration of Clarence's life will be held when it is safe to travel and gather, probably in August around his birthday. Condolences may be sent to An Awake for Clarence Facebook page.