May 20, 2011

Redbone told to wear buckskin

Soul singer Martha Redbone relates an incredible anecdote about Native stereotyping:

In the Studio with Folky Soul Singer Martha RedboneRedbone was—and still is—an anomaly, to say the least. On her mother’s side, she is Cherokee/Shawnee/Choctaw from Appalachia; her late father was an African-American from North Carolina. (Her performing name, Redbone, is a sometimes derogatory slang term for a person of a red-and-black racial mixture.) Her musical DNA has always been complex and genre-defying. She’s mostly a soul singer, but she’s also influenced by the folk and Native music of her youth, which was spent in Kentucky coal-mining country. Despite her obvious talent, her loyalty to her roots sometimes made her a hard sell to the mainstream music industry. “We were talking to this one guy, a big time producer,” she recalls. “And he said, ‘Why do you want to put Native American stuff into your music?’ That’s what he called it, ‘Native American stuff.’ He said, ‘Native Americans aren’t even alive anymore. Nobody cares about them.’” Redbone made her case that the “Native American stuff” was part of the package, and the producer came back at her with a bizarre condition: “So he said, ‘Well, if you insist, then when we take the meeting at Columbia Records, I want you to go in wearing buckskin and a feather. You won’t say anything and you’ll smoke a peace pipe.’”

She said, Thanks, but no thanks.
Comment:  For more on the subject, see Review of For the Generations and Women of the Four Winds Concert.

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