'Out of the Ashes'
GRAYSLAKE, Ill. - Anyone looking for a fresh and delightful CD should consider the enchanting debut by Shelley Morningsong, ''Out of the Ashes'' (2006, Silver Wave Records). Morningsong is a woman with a spellbinding voice that soars and dips as she releases tales of healing and rebirth.
''I want to be an encouragement to other women, because I know there are millions of them who've gone through what I have,'' said Morningsong, the survivor of an abusive marriage that lasted 13 years. ''It was the saddest time of my life.''
The lyrics to her song ''World Gone Crazy'' speak to that period: ''Slamming doors and careless words/Still alive in her heart and mind/She wonders what is love?/Where is love?/In a world gone crazy.''
''One of the most important things for me when writing this album is to touch others, especially women,'' Morningsong said. ''I wept when I wrote 'World Gone Crazy.' I remember how I felt with all the screaming and slamming doors. I talk to women every day - little girls, older girls and teenagers - who've shared similar experiences. I feel those things so deeply, and I'm hoping that my music and those words can help in their healing process. I'm happy to be a part of that.''
Speaking with the same power that is present in her music, Morningsong stated firmly, ''I woke up one morning and said, 'I've had enough.' I called the sheriff and got a restraining order. They removed him from my house at 7 in the morning. I was really scared, but I had to do it for myself and my kids. I got myself into counseling, working and being a single mom.
''Then, four years later, I met my dad for the first time. I grew up without my father, knew nothing about my Indian heritage. My mother, who's Dutch, met my dad when she was 17; he took off when she was three months pregnant with me. My mom is very fair [skinned]; she has green eyes. I don't look anything like her.''
The song ''I Walk in Two Worlds'' speaks of Morningsong's conflict of duality: ''I walk in two worlds/I've been hurt by both/And I've learned that people are just people/No matter the color of their skin/I walk unashamed, but I walk in two worlds.''
''I asked my mom a lot of questions and I was finally able to meet him. That was an incredible reunion. My son and I flew to Illinois. When I got off the plane, I didn't know what to expect. I was in shock - I look just like him! That started a journey of discovery ... For instance, I learned that he is Northern Cheyenne. I always knew I was different because people would always try to speak Spanish to me.''
Even her laughter is music when she describes her experiences. ''I got it a lot while I was growing up in L.A.,'' she continued. ''When I was 8 years old, I went to a friend's birthday party. I stood at the door with the present in my hands, and my friend's father turns to the other guests and says, 'Hey everyone, look! We have a little Indian girl here!' I thought he was crazy.''
Morningsong now has reclaimed her Northern Cheyenne heritage. Joyfully married to Zuni/Omaha musician Fabian Fontenelle, the title cut, ''Out of the Ashes,'' gives new meaning to the term ''labor of love.''
In ''Song for Laughing Eyes,'' Morningsong integrates an old recording of Fontenelle's Grandma Laughing Eyes from the 1940s with Morningsong and Fontenelle's voices singing in the present day. Conjuring a memory of Natalie Cole singing ''Unforgettable'' with her late father, Nat King Cole, Morningson said, ''Has anyone in Indian country done this? We don't think so.''
''No one had heard her [Grandma Laughing Eyes] sing since she died in 1972,'' she continued. ''Fabian and I were fishing around on Google and we ended up in the archives in the Library of Congress. We found that someone had recorded her in 1946 under the name of Margaret Eagle. We were confused, since Eagle wasn't her last name, so we listened to the sound bites - it was there.''
The Library of Congress sent the couple a CD with 14 songs recorded by his grandmother. Morningsong said the whole family was in tears when they listened to it.
''There was a song that she wrote, that she sang all the time; I knew I had to write a song that would incorporate her song. In the middle, Fabian and I sang the song together, and then at the end, Fabian sings with his grandmother. I took a picture of her gravestone that's included in my CD lyrics booklet.''
Morningsong said she's thrilled to have been discovered by Silver Wave, but doesn't want to be pigeonholed. ''There is so much Indian talent out there, playing all kinds of cool music, from pop to reggae. ... But we still get categorized and put over in the 'Native' section. One of the reasons Silver Wave signed me was that they saw that potential for crossing over. They've even marked the CDs for the record stores to file them under 'Pop/Rock.' We'll see what happens.''
Sheri Ziemann traces her roots to Eastern Band Cherokee grandparents from the mountains of North Carolina. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.