18 Important Native American Musicians You Should Know

When you hear the term “Native American music”, you may well think of indigenous folk performances. And there are may native people who have recorded in traditional styles. But Native Americans have also contributed to virtually every style and genre of American music.

Country, blues, rock, and hip hop would be unimaginable without native performers. On the week before the United States celebrates Thanksgiving, it seemed like a good time to list some of the most important Native American performers of the recorded music era.

His harsh vocals and percussive acoustic guitar playing inspired generations of blues musicians, from Son House and Robert Johnson to Howlin’ Wolf and John Lee Hooker.

Charley Patton (1891-1934)

She went on to become one of the great jazz and blues singers of her day, performing with Bing Crosby, the Dorsey Brothers. She also sang with her husband, vibraphonist and bandleader Red Norvo, on hits like the 1937 “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm.”

Mildred Bailey (1907-1951)

Billie Holiday once said that “Kay Starr was the only white woman that could sing the blues.” But Starr wasn’t really white. Her father was Iroquois, and Starr herself was born on a reservation in Oklahoma.

Kay Starr (1922-2016)

Hank Williams was born in Alabama to parents of Muskogee Creek and Tsalagi (Cherokee) ancestry. He went on to transform the country genre with his poetic lyrics and hiccupping, yodeling delivery.

Hank Williams (1923-1953)

His signature guitar licks were enthusiastically imitated by the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Beach Boys, and everyone else, but few performers could match the hip wit of his laugh-out-loud lyrics. Also, he invented the word, “motovatin’.”

Chuck Berry (1926-2017)

Her songs often engaged political and social issues; “Universal Soldier” is an anti-war song, and “Now That’s the Buffalo’s Gone” is a protest against the treatment of native peoples.

Buffy Sainte Marie (1941- )

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