HOLLYWOOD, Calif. - Just over 10 years ago, Mary Youngblood was working in the Gallery of the American West in Sacramento, California. By coincidence Mary walked across the street where they were selling Indian flutes. There she found her calling and a profoundly deepened sense of her Indian heritage.
Youngblood said that through the flute she felt that she could express her whole life's experiences which were good, bad and sometimes ugly. She was determined to do her own thing even though she found resistance among Indian male flute players. In 1992, Youngblood was preparing to perform for a march in the honor of Leonard Peltier and her best friend warned her not to play in Lakota Sioux Indian country. Why? Women weren't allowed to play the flute which was taboo. That didn't stop her.
Youngblood is no stranger to the hard life of a woman trying to find herself in Indian country. She was adopted at birth by a non-Indian couple in Seattle. She says that she grew up with many opportunities that she may not have had on an Indian Reservation. She recalls the Girl Scouts, piano, flute, guitar and choral music lessons and love of the arts. For 12 years that was her childhood in Seattle.
However, Youngblood says she was a terribly lonely girl who was different from everyone else, faced racism and was beat up. Her childhood was difficult, but her adoptive parents loved her even more. They were educators who gave Youngblood the gift of books and reading. They also exposed her to her own Indian background, the Aleuts from Alaska.
In 1986 her very supportive adopted parents encouraged Youngblood to seek her birth mother. She discovered her mom was in a government school in Alaska when Youngblood was given up for adoption. Since then, she has enjoyed getting to know all her Aleut brothers and sisters. Youngblood loves to fish and cook which she learned from her real mother. To keep connected she goes to pow wows, sweats and gatherings whenever she can. Through it all Youngblood says that the flute gives her the opportunity to express her life fully with great appreciation. Her childhood pain was a gift and the flute saved her loss of spirit.
It was said that when Youngblood picked up the flute she became a professional after just 38 days. Someone asked her to play for a junior college and after that she never looked back. Musician Joanne Shenandoah heard Youngblood play and encouraged her and they became sisters.
Five record labels were fighting to sign Youngblood because they had never heard of a female flute player. She was new, different and went against the grain as an up-and-coming flutist. She eventually signed with Silver Wave Records and her first solo CD: "The Offering" debuted to rave reviews.
Youngblood has not forgotten growing up in the music world. She laughs when she remembers the first Rock band she was in called "The American Truckin' Company." At that time, she was in high school and dated the lead guitar player. She also fondly remembers her mentor Ian Anderson who was part of the 1970s rock band Jethro Tull. He gave her guidance and respected her classical flute training. Youngblood says she will never forget the pure Rock-n-Roll period of her life.
Youngblood has played in concerts with the great B.B. King, Chris Isaak and at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. But, her greatest achievements lie within her community in Sacramento, California. She educates children on American Indian oral history emphasizing art and music. Youngblood has also written more than 75 songs and hundreds of poems.
She is renowned in a world dominated by Indian men flute players and demonstrates it loud and clear on her Grammy nominated CD "Beneath the Raven Moon." She loves the accolades, praise and awards, but it's the music Youngblood wants heard. On her next CD she will play guitar along with the flute and it will feature a song called "Feed the Fire," about how and when her parents first met. I'm sure we will hear from flutist Mary Youngblood for a very long time to come.
For past stories on Mary Youngblood, check out www.indiancountry.com.