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Tom Bee receives Lifetime Achievement Award

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HOLLYWOOD, Calif. - Tom Bee has come a long way to receive the lifetime achievement award for his contribution to music that will be presented to him Feb. 8 at the annual First Americans in the Arts Awards in Los Angeles.

Bee was abandoned at birth and adopted by a family in Gallup, N.M. He later found his true Indian heritage as a Santee Sioux. He was an introverted child who had nervous disorders, epileptic seizures and a speech impediment that persisted most of his life. That life seemed to be full of adversities he was determined to overcome, and he succeeded.

Tom was 15 years old when he traveled from the Southwest out to the streets of Hollywood. He was lonely and didn't have a lot of friends, but when he arrived he found himself looking up at Capitol Records. Before he could enter those doors at Capitol, he had to overcome his stuttering speech.

He would talk, sing and take notes to anyone who would listen. That was how Tom Bee communicated his music to the outside world. He said he was always a dreamer and he believed that no one should let his dream die. Dreamers are what make the world go around. Tom didn't give up even when they said "no" and they said it often.

Tom says that nothing has been easy for him. It was hard, hard work and he let nothing get in his way. He says you can achieve anything even when no one else believes in your music. You have to believe in it yourself first and always. Don't take no for an answer. But, be prepared to hear that word "no" again the next day, tomorrow, even the next week.

His first record contract came in 1970 from the Red Earth label, which was a branch of Motown records for non-black acts. He received that contract after Motown executives heard one of the songs he wrote. They wanted to record it for the Jackson Five.

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Motown records was in Detroit and that's where Tom's band XIT recorded its first album, appropriately titled, "Plight of the Red Man." It was an album of message songs depicting the struggles of Native America. Motown executives didn't know how to sell this kind of album because they were a Rhythm and Blues label. But, Tom asked them just to put it out there.

The band XIT came at a time of turmoil in Indian country. Tom says he came out of the 1970s and his music reflects that era. He's still an AIMster (American Indian Movement) gangster renegade at heart. Today, he is more positive, but he still feels he has to knock down the doors of racism towards American Indian music.

The business side of the music world always fascinated Tom, and he asked many questions. He said he was like a runaway sponge by soaking everything up.

When he formed "Sound of America Records" in his garage in New Mexico in 1989, he put everything he had learned about the business into it. He ran it like a record label and not an Indian trading post.

He continues to fight the retail outlets because they won't put Native CDs on their shelves. He calls himself a survivor and he can run with the best of them. He loves what he does and it's the best life he could ever have worked for. Tom Bee certainly has come a long way and he says he will continue to fight for American Indian music.

From Hollywood, Roscoe Pond