Academic journal article Notes

Songs of the People: Plains Indian Music and Recordings, 1968-1996

Academic journal article Notes

Songs of the People: Plains Indian Music and Recordings, 1968-1996

Article excerpt


The recording of American Indian music began with Jesse Walter Fewkes's study of Passamaquoddy songs in February and March 1890, thirteen years after Thomas Edison's invention of the phonograph in 1877. By the end of the nineteenth century, researchers had begun to record the music of the native peoples of the Great Plains. During the twentieth century, numerous recording technologies were developed and employed in the recording of Plains Indian music, but it was not until the late 1960s, with the advent of various forms of cassette recording technologies, that the American Indian and Plains Indian recording industry began to flourish. The following discography documents the growth of recordings of Plains Indian music during the cassette era, which continued with the introduction of compact discs in the 1990s.

The People and Their Music

The Great Plains region of the United States and Canada extends from Texas in the south to the Canadian provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta in the north. The eastern boundary approximately follows the Mississippi River Valley, while the western boundary follows the Rocky Mountains. Within this vast region are two subregions, the High Plains and the Prairies, which were home to American Indian tribal groups from six language families - Siouan, Caddoan, Algonquian, Athapascan, Uto-Aztecan, and Kiowa-Tanoan - plus the language isolate, Tonkawa.

The High Plains subregion is located in the western areas of the Plains and was the historic home of the "classic" nomadic buffalo hunters, which included the Arapaho, Assiniboine, Blackfoot, Cheyenne, Comanche, Crow, Gros Ventre, Kiowa, Kiowa-Apache, Lakota, Lipan Apache, Plains Cree, Plains Ojibwa, Sarsi, Stoney, and Tonakawa. The Prairie subregion was the home of several semisedentary horticultural tribes, including the Arikara, Hidatsa, Iowa, Kansa, Kitsai, Mandan, Missouri, Omaha, Osage, Otoe, Ponca, Quapaw, and Wichita.

In the late 1800s, Plains Indian groups, as well as certain groups from the eastern United States and Great Lakes region, were relocated either to reservations on the northern Plains or to Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma) on the southern Plains. This regional division and its accompanying isolation led to the development of two variant forms of the Plains Indian musical style, referred to as northern style and southern style. The basic difference between the two styles is in pitch; southern-style songs are sung in a lower register than northern style songs.(1)

Although the focus of this discography is on Plains Indian groups and their recordings, I have included recordings of Plains-style music by non-Plains groups and recordings of Peyote music by Plains groups. Several non-Plains groups participate in Plains-style singing and recording. These non-Plains groups include those that were relocated to the Plains in the 1800s as well as certain groups and individuals who adopted Plains-style musical practices in recent years. Peyote music is of non-Plains origins but was adopted by many Plains groups beginning in the 1800s.

The Discography

The entries in the chronological discography section consist of six elements: (1) recording title, (2) name of singer(s), (3) tribal affiliation, (4) recording company and catalog number, (5) style of music, and (6) available medium.(2) When presenting the name of the singer or singers, typically a group name is given or the individual singers are named. If multiple individuals (over four) or multiple groups (over two) are on a recording, the terms "Various Individuals" or "Various Groups" are used.

Terminology used to designate tribal affiliation follows that of the Smithsonian Institution's Handbook of North American Indians.(3) Recordings are assigned a tribal affiliation of "Intertribal" when several tribes are represented. "Style of music" refers to three categories presented in this discography: northern style, southern style, and Peyote. …

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