August 21, 2008

The Wikwemikong Loretta Lynn

Crystal Shawanda Embraces the Dawn of a New Day

Native American Newcomer Finds Hope and Freedom in Country MusicMore than 1,000 miles separate the Wikwemikong Native American reservation in Ontario, Canada, from the country music capital of Nashville, but Crystal Shawanda has been making the trip faithfully for years. Those travels paid off Tuesday (Aug. 19) with the release of Dawn of a New Day, her first album for RCA Nashville.Singing about her own life:Her music offered a passageway from the daunting atmosphere of life on the reservation. By the time she turned 10, sorrow and death had already become a constant factor in her life.

"It wasn't normal deaths," she said. "It was like suicides and alcohol related deaths, car accidents, drownings, things like that. Things that are shocking to a person--especially a young person." But music gave her the hope and inspiration to carry on. "It was my freedom," she said in explaining her way of connecting with the world and dealing with heartache.

But even after she moved to Nashville and maintained a regular gig at Tootsie's, finding musical acceptance wasn't always easy. She was told by a music industry executive that there simply wasn't room for Native Americans in country music. Nevertheless, Shawanda continued to sing.

"I see it as something that made me stronger in the end, and it made me a fighter" she said. "It also shows me how much--whether I want to run from it or embrace it--the responsibility of being one of the first Native Americans to get a major label record deal."
Introducing Crystal ShawandaA Native American raised on a reservation in Ontario, Canada, Crystal Shawanda owns an amped-up voice and a professed love for old-school country, shouting out to Patsy Cline in her lyrics and covering the Hank Williams' classic "Your Cheatin' Heart."

But the rest of "Dawn Of A New Day," the 27-year-old's debut album, rocks as aggressively as any contemporary country album of 2008. Her bluesy, in-your-face style crosses the vocal pyrotechnics of Carrie Underwood with the uncompromising soul power of Mary J. Blige. This is country music flexed and fueled to connect with those who listen to modern rock and Alicia Keys-style urban pop.

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