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Joseph Fire Crow: ‘Flutist of the Year’

PEPPER PIKE, Ohio – Joseph FireCrow is from the Northern Cheyenne Reservation in Montana. He spent his childhood growing up on the reservation and in Salmon, Idaho. The Native American Music Award-winning flutist has played a significant part in bringing traditional Native music to the forefront of the music industry.

Fire Crow: It started when I was a kid on the rez, hearing the drum in the springtime when people would practice for the pow wow circuit. We would emulate the singers at the drum; singing was a big part of everyday life. We would also hear the wooden flute in the evening time.

I played the trumpet from the fourth grade through college. I have a lot of music training that is very fundamental. In college, the music and the discipline helped me become inspired. I love playing the trumpet … expressing it.

I did not think music was going to be my career.

Indian Country Today: What do you want people to get from your music?

Fire Crow: Ideally, I want them to go on a trip from one place to the next in their heart. I want them to forget about their problems for a brief moment. To heal themselves. To help heal the physical pain. I lost my sister to cancer. She told me she felt her best when she heard the flute.

I want to inspire ... to do something … good for humanity.

I also think behind any great man is even a greater woman. I definitely have that with my wife, Joann. She inspires me. The most beautiful songs I ever written were inspired by my relationship with her.

ICT: Was it on “Red Beads” where your mom sang? [FireCrow’s mother, Elva Stands In Timber, joined him on “Red Beads,” which was released in August 2005.] Can you tell me about that?

Fire Crow: Yea, my mother is a War Bonnet Woman, a ceremony woman. She has a great understanding of our traditional laws and societies. She knows how they have to work together. She knows the families who fought at the Battle of the Little Bighorn.

I wanted her on this album. I wanted it to be a more traditional album. That is what “Red Beads” is about. The Red Beads name is from my dad’s side of the family. The red beads pictured on the cover are from a relative named Ridge Walker from my mother’s side of the family.

When I took her to the studio, she looked just cute. She was sitting in the booth with the headphones on. She spoke from the heart. She did it in only one take and it was more than I could have ever asked for.

ICT: What kind of impact did it have when you started getting all those award nominations for your music?

Fire Crow: It changed my career, especially when the GRAMMY nomination came [for Best Native Album for “Cheyenne Nation,” in 2001]. It happened so fast. I thought maybe in 20 years from now we may get an opportunity, but little did I realize I would make history as being part of the first group [of Natives] to go to the GRAMMY Awards.

We were a part of the live telecast. The only other solo artist there that night was Joanne Shenandoah. The Black Lodge Singers, Lakota Thunder and the Gathering of Nations Pow Wow were also nominated.

It was the highest honor that can be bestowed for all Natives, that the first GRAMMY [for Native Album of the Year] went to all nations – the [recording of] the Gathering of Nations Pow Wow.

ICT: That is amazing. What happened this summer at the Native American Music Awards?

Fire Crow: I won the “Flutist of The Year.”… I guess I am the reigning flute man.

I was not expecting to win. I was also up for Male Artist of the Year. They chose me for my music and my singing. It was hard to believe they chose me as one of the better singers. I just feel … like, “Oh, wow!”

I finally beat my friend, Carlos Nakai. I see him a lot at the awards. I can’t wait to tease him the next time I see him.

ICT: Where do you see your music heading now?

Fire Crow: Carlos [Nakai] said, “There are no limits.”