native american singers

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Tsianina Redfeather was born Florence Tsianina Evans at Eufaula, in Indian Territory (now Oklahoma), to Creek (Muscogee) and Cherokee parents. She was trained as a singer in Denver, sponsored in part by Alice Robertson .

At age 16, Redfeather joined pianist Charles Wakefield Cadman on tour, giving recitals throughout North America. Cadman, who was white, claimed expertise in Native American music, and lectured on the subject. As “Princess Redfeather,” Tsianina performed Cadman’s compositions in traditional costume, with long braids and garments she had beaded herself. Cadman’s composition, “From the Land of Sky-Blue Water,” was Redfeather’s signature song.

Tsianina Redfeather also knew archaeologist Edgar Lee Hewett, who attempted to compliment her by saying that he admired the shape of her head, and hoped to have it for his museum after she died. “He frightened me,” she recalled, “and I had a secret fear of having my skull on display for all to see.” (Hewett died long before Redfeather did.)

During World War I, she was the only woman in a YMCA-sponsored troupe of Native American entertainers who played and danced for troops in France and Germany, just before the armistice. For her service, she received a commendation.

The opera Shanewis, with music by Cadman and libretto by Nelle Richmond Eberhart, was loosely based on Redfeather’s stories of Native American life. It debuted at the Metropolitan Opera in 1918 and toured the United States. Tsianina Redfeather sang the lead at some performances, including at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles, in 1926.

In 1935, Redfeather retired from singing. She was one of the founders of the American Indian Education Foundation (AIEF), and spent thirty years on the board of managers for the School of American Research in Santa Fe.