Combine exquisite beauty with unlimited natural talent and you get Radmilla Cody, a former Miss Navajo Nation and a Grammy-nominated singer. She enters the Native American Music Awards, which take this Friday, May 10, nominated in three categories -- Best Female Artist, Record of the Year, and Traditional Album -- all due to the acclaimed album Shi Keyah: Songs for the People (Canyon Records).
Although not selected as the Grammy winner, Cody had the honor of being the first Native American artist to be recognized in the catch-all Regional Roots category created two years ago when the Recording Academy decided to discontinue the Native American Album category.
Despite going home empty-handed at that event, she had already been honored by being selected to present awards at the Pre-Telecast Ceremony. In an earlier ICTMN interview, she said that while she hoped her Songs For The People effort would be well received by her Dine' Nation, "the fact that it has been acknowledged by the Recording Academy is a blessing in itself."
Her web biography says the chanteuse “with an angelic voice of bluebirds singing” maintains her Navajo culture by recording music that children sing with pride and that Dine' elders can also be proud of. Her uncle, Dr. Herman Cody, has collaborated for 13 years to write her music that keeps both young and old happy. “I tried my hand at songwriting, but he’s the mastermind behind all the songwriting success,” she says.
“I sing traditional songs that are about life in the Dine' culture -- songs about our prayers, our being, and who we are as a people. My music incorporates so much about the significance of little things in our routine world, like animals that are sacred to us, and humor because it plays such an integral role in our daily lives.”
What she does, she does well. Coming from the Tla’a’schi’I (Red Bottom People) clan and born for the Naahillii (African American), Cody was raised on Navajo Nation plateaus near Leupp. Her maternal grandmother raised her in the life-sustaining methods of the Dine' people where she herded sheep and later carded and spun their wool, singing to her captive corral audience. Her audiences and performance venues have improved in recent years.
Radmilla Cody with fellow NAMA nominee Tony Duncan, with whom she will be performing at Friday's awards ceremony. Photo by Lee Allen, AZFREELANCE
Cody is a survivor of domestic abuse and violence, and today is an advocate against it, as founder of the "Strong Spirit … Life is Beautiful, not Abusive" campaign to address teen dating violence. Performing at the Heard Museum in Phoenix the day after the Violence Against Women Act was approved, she told her audience:
"Yesterday I was filled with tears of joy at the VAWA passage, celebrating because I speak out as a survivor still moving forward. This is not an individual issue, but a societal one. It’s not just about domestic violence -- physical abuse, mental abuse, isolation, economic abuse, emotional abuse, sexual assault -- it’s about everyday interactions with people and how you treat them. It’s important for all of us to be a voice against violence and toward that end, I wrote this song when I was going through an adversity in my life” at which point she closed her eyes and emotionally began the lyrics to "Tears."
Following her stage appearance and post-performance photo sessions with a flock of fans, Ms. Cody sat for an exclusive interview with Indian Country Today Media Network during which she was asked information about herself that was not found in her professional biography.
“I love to spend time in the outdoors running or just sit at home and read," she said. "I also spontaneously start singing even when I am an audience of one -- the Dawn Song sung to the holy ones early in the morning requesting from them their blessings for the day -- whenever I feel the desire to break out in song, behind the wheel, in the shower. I believe I came out of my mother’s womb singing and song is always going to be a part of my everyday existence.”
Cody also copped to a "secret fetish" for chocolate.
While her wardrobe selection for the NAMMY awards is anticipated to be fully-authentic Navajo, her tribe and her grandmother -- "the foundation of who I am" -- were also represented at the Grammy’s as she wore a dress created by her aunt and handmade moccasins once worn by her late grandmother, Dorothy. She told the Los Angeles Times: "The moccasins are sentimental and complete this whole exciting time. I consider them my lucky charm."
Asked by Indian Country Today if receipt of one or more accolades at this Friday's event would be a testament to her talent or a tribute to her people, Radmilla was quick to respond. "Both," she said. "It would, first and foremost, be a tribute to the people because everything we do in life embodies everyone ... not just ourselves, but the full circle of family, community, and Navajo nation. My people have always been a big part of everything I’ve done, so recognition would be a tribute to them as well as a testament to my talent -- tangible evidence that all the hard work is paying off. But the best reward ever, for both Uncle Herman and myself as we make our music, will be hearing the children sing the songs and speak the language as the next generation preserves our culture."
With tradition being such an important part of who she is, Cody’s life philosophy is a basic one -- strive daily to live in a good way. "The Creator has given me the strength to look forward in life, to embrace the beautiful and the positive. Beauty is before us, behind us, surrounding us and if you trip and fall off the track of life, you have an ability to bounce back, learn from the experience, and move forward to be even stronger."
Look out, Grammy Awards 2014.