WINSTED, Conn. - GRAMMY nominated and NAMMY award-winning flutist Joseph
FireCrow has one of the most interesting styles of Native flute. Though a
traditional man by nature, he creates music that takes influences from jazz
and rock and seamlessly mixes it with the sound of his ancient instrument.
The result is an album that, like his life, delicately walks a fine line
between two cultures. "Legend of a Warrior" (Makoche Records) ranges from
quiet solo performances, to Steely Dan rhythms with a full ensemble, to a
style approaching heavy metal.
FireCrow first fell in love with the flute as a young boy living on the
Northern Cheyenne Reservation in Montana. When he was 9 years old he was
placed with a foster family during the school year as part of the Mormon
Indian Placement program. After graduation, he attended Brigham Young
University and after three years went back to the reservation to reclaim
his heritage. Though it took a number of years to be reaccepted by his
tribe, FireCrow prevailed and became a respected flutist in his community.
He also began lecturing and holding workshops that included lessons in
In 1992 FireCrow released his first independent album, and four years later
he released the first in a series of nationally distributed albums,
"FireCrow." His follow-up, "Cheyenne Nation," received a nomination in the
Best Native American Music Album category at the 43rd Annual GRAMMY Awards.
Ken Burns also chose FireCrow's music to be included on the soundtrack for
his documentary "Lewis and Clark: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery."
FireCrow is currently working on several projects for release later this
Having come from the reservation, going to a foster family, and coming back
to reclaim his culture is a major part of FireCrow's story. He talked to
Indian Country Today about the culture shock of leaving the reservation as
a child. He had never seen an African American until he left, and had only
used the telephone one time in his life. "The idea of the program was to
get a better education," FireCrow said. "At the same time it ensured that
Mormonism is also taught to the child. I was actually excommunicated from
the Mormon Church by choice. The official reason is that I didn't have a
repentant heart to repent for my so-called sins. I was getting prepared to
go on a Mormon Mission. They asked me to pray about whether I really
believed that what I was doing was the right thing for me, and the answer
came back 'no.' That was a difficult answer to give people. Because of that
choice, and asking to leave the church and I also had to withdraw from the
FireCrow feels he benefited from the experience. He learned family values,
learned to think of others, and to have faith in God, but in the end he
realized he was not a Mormon, he was Cheyenne. "I came back home not
knowing what to expect and that first year was the toughest," FireCrow
said. "The good thing was that I had a consistent home life, being with the
Mormons. It gave me not only a sense of who I am, but also a sense that I
was worth something. When growing up on the reservation it's was hard to
have a good self-image when there's a lot of chaos going on around you.
This is the part that some of my elders don't like to hear, but the
alcoholism on the reservation made it really tough. I'm grateful today that
a lot of our children won't have to experience those kinds of things; now
we have ways of helping people though that. Having alcohol is not a
traditional thing for my people; when I look at it like that, it answers
all my questions."
Ironically, while FireCrow grew up hearing the flute on the reservation, it
was not until he was at BYU that he learned to make and play the
instrument. "A man was teaching music in the Native studies, and being away
from the ceremonies and my own language and people, a lot of things laid
dormant within me. When I heard the flute it took me away, and we were even
taught to make them. I played the flute for two years, but I wasn't ready
for what the flute had to offer me. People gave me a lot of adulation, but
I took away from the flute, I stood in front of it, and when you do that
with any gift, it dies. You're not feeding it; you're feeding yourself. I
was 34 before I picked up the flute again. By that time I had moved back to
the reservation. It was very hard to move back home and become a part of
the people again. It took me 13 years of living with my own people before
they felt comfortable with me."
Of course in that time, FireCrow rediscovered the flute and is now one of
the major figures in American Indian music. Even after all of his
experiments with different types of music, he is going back to his roots
yet again. "I'm working on several projects. People have been begging me to
put out another traditional album, like my first album, 'FireCrow.' I'm
leaning that way too, but at the same time we're doing a lot of really
great new stuff that's awesome live, and we want to get that recorded.
Maybe in the next year or two we can get that traditional album out. At the
same time there is stuff happening in the new age arena for me. I'm working
with another GRAMMY nominee, David Darling. He's a cello player, and we're
working on something that will, hopefully, give Yanni and Kitaro a run for
For more information, visit www.josephfirecrow.com.