Nez Perce Music–Three Years Later

Three years ago, we had a summer exhibit featuring Nez Perce music, from drummers and dancers of long ago to the “Nezpercians” and “Lollypop Six” jazz and dance bands of the early and mid-twentieth century. We gave a nod in that exhibit to a young Nez Perce jazz singer named Julia Keefe.

Julia wasn’t done with music and with her Native past. With a grant in hand, Keefe and co-leader, Delbert Anderson of the Dine Tribe of the Navajo Nation, set out to build an all-indigenous big band. They worried that they could find enough talent and interest among indigenous musicians, but, in the end, according to Tom Bance of NPR’s Northwest News Network”:

“Keefe and Anderson said they could have assembled two all-Native big bands with the talent that came out of the woodwork. The selected participants had connections to Native peoples across the Americas, including Alaska, Hawaii, eastern Canada, the U.S. Southwest, the Great Plains and Caribbean.”

“The Read The Article

Passing as White

Albert Barros, enrolled Nez Perce and old friend of Josephys and mine, recently forwarded a piece on jazz musician Mildred Bailey. Bailey, who sang In the 30s and 40s, was considered the first big white jazz singer and a trail blazer for later female jazz stars Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday.

White? Her mother was a Coeur d’Alene tribal member, her father Swiss-Irish. She was born Mildred Rinker in Tekoa, Washington in 1900, and the family moved to Spokane when she was 13. They were called “breeds” in Spokane, and her father suggested they downplay the Indian heritage (at a time when light skinned blacks across the country were passing as white and my Indian classmates in California were passing as Mexican).

One of their Spokane neighbors, who joined with her brother Al to form a group called the “Rhythm Boys,” later became known as Bing Crosby. By the late 20s, all three were in California, and, through Bing, Mildred Read The Article