Tsianina Redfeather Blackstone

Tsianina Redfeather Blackstone (December 13, 1882 – January 10, 1985) was a Creek/Cherokee singer and performer born in Eufaula, Oklahoma, then within the Muscogee Creek Nation. From 1908 she toured regularly with Charles Wakefield Cadman, a composer and pianist who gave lectures about Native American music that were accompanied by his compositions and her singing. He composed classically based works associated with the Indianist movement. They toured in the United States and Europe.

Tsianina Redfeather
Tsianina Redfeather in 1915
Born(1882-12-13)December 13, 1882
DiedJanuary 10, 1985(1985-01-10) (aged 102)
NationalityAmerican
Other namesTsianina Blackstone, Tsianina Grayson
Occupationopera singer and activist
Notable work
Libretto for Shanewis

She collaborated with him and Nelle Richmond Eberhart on the libretto of the opera Shanewis (or "The Robin Woman," 1918), which was based on her semi-autobiographical stories and contemporary issues for Native Americans. It premiered at the Metropolitan Opera. Redfeather sang the title role when the opera was on tour, making her debut when the work was performed in Denver in 1924, and also performing in it in Los Angeles in 1926.

After her performing career, she worked as an activist on Indian education, co-founding the American Indian Education Foundation. She also supported Native American archeology and ethnology, serving on the Board of Managers for the School of American Research founded in Santa Fe by Alice Cunningham Fletcher.

Early life

Tsianina Redfeather was born Florence Tsianina Evans at Eufaula, in Indian Territory (now Oklahoma), to Creek and Cherokee parents.[1] She trained as a classical singer in Denver, Colorado, sponsored in part by Alice Robertson.[2]

Career

At age 26, Redfeather joined American pianist Charles Wakefield Cadman on tour, giving recitals throughout North America. Cadman, who was white, had studied Native American music from ethnology sources and was lecturing on it, starting in 1908.[3] He also was creating work drawn from Indian music. In the summer of 1909 he went to Nebraska, where he studied Omaha and Winnebago music on the reservations. He also learned to play some traditional instruments.[3]

Beginning in 1908, Cadman conducted lecture tours speaking about American Indian music and performed recitals on the subject, including his own songs, and accompanied by Redfeather as singer. They toured both in the United States and later in Europe, so she became known internationally.[4] As "Princess Tsianina Redfeather", she performed Cadman's compositions wearing traditional costume, with her hair in long braids. She beaded her own garments.[3][5] Cadman's composition "From The Land of Sky-Blue Water" became Redfeather's signature song.[6]

She collaborated with Cadman and his librettist Nelle Richmond Eberhart in creating the opera Shanewis (or The Robin Woman). Its contemporary plot was loosely based on Redfeather's semi-autobiographical stories of Native American life, and was set in California and Oklahoma.[7] The work debuted at the Metropolitan Opera in 1918 and was performed also the next season. Highly popular, it toured the United States. Tsianina sang the lead at some performances on tour, making her opera debut in the role in Denver in 1924.[8] She reprised it in 1926 at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles.[9]

During World War I in 1918, Redfeather was the head of a YMCA-sponsored troupe of Native American entertainers who toured France and Germany, performing for American troops. The title of the show was "The Indian of yesterday and today."[1] She described the others as "twenty Indian boys".[1][10] General John J. Pershing honored her as one of the first women to volunteer to entertain the troops. She was the first woman to cross the Rhine to reach US troops in Germany.[4]

In 1935, Redfeather retired from singing but was active in working on Indian issues. She was one of the founders of the American Indian Education Foundation (AIEF).[11]

She also served for 30 years on the Board of Managers for the School of American Research in Santa Fe. Intended to promote archeological and ethnological research in the United States related to Native Americans, the institute was founded by ethnologist Alice Cunningham Fletcher.[10] Amateur archaeologist Edgar Lee Hewett, who had achieved some status and donated substantial money to the school, was made director. Redfeather recounted that upon meeting Hewett, he told her that he admired the shape of her head and hoped to have it for his museum after she died. "He frightened me," she recalled, "and I had a secret fear of having my skull on display for all to see."[12]

Personal life

In 1920 Redfeather married David F. Balz of Denver.[13] After they divorced, she remarried. Her second husband was named Blackstone. They also divorced.

Redfeather became a devout Christian Scientist later in life. She eventually settled in California, where she lived with her niece Wynemah Blaylock (sometimes spelled Blalock) in Burbank. They later moved to San Diego.[4]

In 1981 Redfeather was baptized in the Catholic faith at St. John's Church in San Diego.[4] After Redfeather died in 1985, age 102, a funeral mass for her was held at St. John's.[4] Her niece said she was descended from "Indian royalty."[6]

References

  1. "Indian Troupe Busy at Front", Muskogee Times-Democrat, 26 May 1919, p. 3. Quote: "Miss Redfeather, who is a fullblood Cherokee..."
  2. Paige Clark Lush, "The All American Other: Native American Music and Musicians on the Circuit Chautauqua," Americana: The Journal of American Popular Culture 1900 to Present 7(2)Fall 2008): http://www.americanpopularculture.com/journal/articles/fall_2008/lush.htm
  3. Harry D. Perison, "The 'Indian' Operas of Charles Wakefield Cadman," College Music Symposium 22(2)(Fall 1982): 20-48, via JSTOR.
  4. AP, "Famed Indian Singer Dies at Age of 102," Santa Cruz Sentinel (January 14, 1985): 6. via Newspapers.com
  5. Jared Farmer, On Zion's Mount: Mormons, Indians, and the American Landscape (Harvard University Press 2009): pp. 344-345.
  6. UPI, "American Indian Performer Tsianina Redfeather Blackstone," Chicago Tribune (January 13, 1985).
  7. Elise Kuhl Kirk, American Opera (University of Illinois Press 2001): pp. 149-151.
  8. "Shanewis: Performance History". OperaGlass, Stanford University. Retrieved August 12, 2012.
  9. Beverly Diamond, "Decentering Opera: Early Twentieth-Century Indigenous Production," in Pamela Karantonis and Dylan Robinson, eds., Opera Indigene: Re/Presenting First Nations and Indigenous Cultures (Ashgate 2011): p. 33.
  10. K. Tsianina Lomawaima, "Tsianina Redfeather Blackstone", in Gretchen M. Bataille and Laurie Lisa, eds., Native American Women: A Biographical Dictionary (Taylor & Francis 2001): 39-40.
  11. "'Indian Summer' Fashion Tea Will Aid Foundation," Valley News (October 16, 1956): 9. via Newspapers.com
  12. Beatrice Chauvenet, Hewett and Friends: A Biography of Santa Fe's Vibrant Era (Museum of New Mexico Press 1983): 157-158.
  13. "Colorado Princess Announces Wedding," Junction City Daily Union (February 26, 1921): 3. via Newspapers.com
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