Martha Redbone is a leading singer-songwriter of American roots music, blending elements of funk and the blues with those from her Native American heritage. Her music is described as “a brilliant collision of cultures” by The New Yorker and “Earth, Wind, and Fire on the rez” by Native Peoples Magazine. Her album Skintalk is part of the permanent collection at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian as an example of contemporary Native American music. She is currently developing a musical theater piece commissioned by Joe’s Pub and The Public Theater based on her ancestry and her childhood in the Appalachian hills of Black Mountain, Kentucky.
Martha Redbone’s Native American roots lie in the Southeastern region of the United States, home to the Cherokee, Choctaw, and Shawnee tribes. The traditional music of these tribes is centered upon songs that accompany dances that continue to be performed at powwows and other social gatherings. The songs feature short sections of lyrics, often sung in call and response, accompanied by drums, rattles, whistles, pipes, and flutes. All of these instruments have spiritual significance and are made from natural elements: For example, gourds become rattles, and logs become water drums. Starting in the 1700s, Native American music was altered by the arrival of British traders who introduced the fiddle, and by African influences shared throughout the South.
Martha Redbone has continued to teach traditional Southeastern tribal music throughout most of her career, as an expression of her deep commitment to preserving and sharing her Native American cultural heritage. At the same time, she has developed her own singular style of American Roots music that is a direct reflection of her own roots: her Cherokee-Choctaw-Shawnee mother and African American father; the Appalachian hills of Harlan County, Kentucky where she spent her early childhood; and the eclectic grit of her teenage years in Brooklyn. Combining the vocal style of her gospel-singing father with the spirit of her mother’s Native American culture, she proudly broadens the boundaries of Native Americana.