News Release


What: Online premiere of Strings on the Rez, a documentary by Molly McBride, featuring ETHEL

When: Sunday, June 21, 2020, at 5:00 p.m. EST

Where: ETHEL’s YouTube page

Why: Fundraiser benefiting the Navajo and Hopi Families COVID Relief Fund. For more info about the organization, visit

How: Watch ETHEL’s documentary and then donate via GoFundMe

Nationally acclaimed string quartet ETHEL continues its career-long collaboration with Native American communities via an online fundraiser to aid the Navajo and Hopi reservations. Starting Sunday, June 21, 2020, ETHEL will broadcast the online premiere of the documentary Strings on the Rez in an effort to raise awareness of the economic and health crises being suffered in the Navajo and Hopi Nations.

“In solidarity with our friends in Navajo Nation, where the pandemic has hit with a vengeance, ETHEL invites all of our followers and supporters to participate in the fundraiser-premiere of this documentary,” says Dorothy Lawson, co-founder and cellist of ETHEL. "ETHEL is releasing the film for the first time digitally to bring our fans’ generosity to bear on the grassroots Navajo-Hopi COVID-19 Relief Fund. They are providing effective, timely support under monstrous conditions.

A still from Molly McBride "String on the Rez" documentary.

COVID-19’s disproportionate impact on minority communities is evident in tribal nations. Navajo residents have been devastated as the virus has swept through a reservation that spans four states. As of June 12, 6,470 people have tested positive for the coronavirus, and 303 have died, a staggering toll in a population of 356,000 — and the highest per-capita infection rate in the U.S. (surpassing New York and New Jersey). According to the Department of Health, Native Americans account for 57% of COVID-19 cases despite being 11% of the population in the state of New Mexico. The pandemic is pushing the tribe’s public health system to its limits. Online fundraising campaigns, including ETHEL’s, are springing up around Indian country to address immediate needs. 

As part of the Grand Canyon Music Festival’s Native American Composer's Apprentice Project (NACAP), created to help young Navajo give voice to their music, ETHEL shared the power of musical experience with the underserved and rural communities of the Navajo and Hopi reservations for 10 years. Through that program, ETHEL reached almost 18,000 students, premiered over 150 works by Native American children, and touched more than 15 schools throughout Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico. The documentary film Strings on the Rez by Molly McBride captures ETHEL’s collaboration with high school students of the Navajo Nation. It was recorded from 2006-2008 in and around Tuba City, Arizona, and at the Grand Canyon. ETHEL and guitar-playing teenagers of the Navajo reservation meet in tradition and modernity, discover a new flow of communication, and share a heartfelt human exchange. The film was shown at the Grand Canyon Music Festival and the Black Bear Film Festival.

ETHEL has been working with Indigenous communities in many ways. Currently, ETHEL is touring an eight-year collaborative concert with Robert Mirabal, the renowned Taos Pueblo flutist, instrument builder, and three-time GRAMMY® Award-winner. This unique marriage resulted in the 2016 album release of The River (Innova Records). Another addition to ETHEL’s discography is OSHTALI (Thunderbird Records) released in 2010. Recognized as the first album in history with solely works by American Indian student-composers, OSHTALI is a 16-song collection showcasing the contemporary classical music of students of the Chickasaw Nation Summer Arts Academy of Ada, Oklahoma.


“In the hands of ETHEL, American music is alive and well.” (The Washington Post) Established in New York City in 1998, ETHEL quickly earned a reputation as one of America’s most adventurous string quartets. More than 20 years later, the band continues to set the standard for contemporary concert music. Known for its enlivened playing, blending uptown, conservatory musicianship with downtown genre-crossing, ETHEL has been described as “indefatigable and eclectic” (The New York Times), “vital and brilliant” (The New Yorker), and “infectiously visceral” (Pitchfork). Since its inception, ETHEL has released nine feature recordings (one of them nominated for a Native American Music Award), premiered 225 compositions, performed as guests on 40+ albums, won a GRAMMY® with jazz legend Kurt Elling, and performed in 14 countries, 45 states, and 250 cities.

At the heart of ETHEL is a collaborative ethos — a quest for a common creative expression that is forged in the celebration of community. The quartet creates and tours rich, often multimedia, productions including the evening-length ETHEL’s Documerica, inspired by the tens of thousands of images shot in the 1970’s as part of the Environmental Protection Agency’s decade-long Project Documerica; The River, a collaboration with Taos Pueblo flutist Robert Mirabal; Grace, a journey highlighting musical iterations of redemption and featuring ETHEL’s own adaptation of Ennio Morricone’s moving score to the 1986 film, The Mission; Ancient Airs and Dances, a journey to European Middle Ages, Renaissance and Baroque Eras; and Circus – Wandering City, which explores the phenomenon of circus through the eyes and insights of people who have created its special thrills and illusions. This season marks the fourth chapter of ETHEL’s HomeBaked Project, an initiative showcasing emerging composers. The Class of 2020 composers had their pieces premiered by ETHEL at National Sawdust and will be featured in a May 2020 festival at the Brooklyn Public Library.  

ETHEL is currently the Resident Ensemble at The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Balcony Bar, Ensemble-in-Residence at Denison University, and 2019-20 Creatives-in- Residence at the Brooklyn Public Library. 

ETHEL is Ralph Farris (viola), Kip Jones (violin), Dorothy Lawson (cello), and Corin Lee (violin). 

About Navajo and Hopi Reservation COVID Relief Fund 

The Navajo Nation and Hopi Reservation are extreme food deserts with only 13 grocery stores on Navajo land to serve some 180,000 people and only 3 small grocery marts on the Hopi reservation to serve some 3,000 people. These communities also have high numbers of elderly, diabetic, asthmatic, and cancer-afflicted (i.e., high risk) individuals. These communities could be devastated by coronavirus and COVID-19. We want to help these individuals, especially the elderly and high risk individuals, and families with children, to gain access to the food and water (1/3 of Navajo residents do not have running water) and other essential items they will need to weather this pandemic, such as food, PPE, and diapers. The need is so great. Navajo Nation regularly has roughly 50% unemployment (most of the residents are elderly or children; those who can work often leave the Nation to find jobs), and Hopi Nation has roughly 60% unemployment. Please give if you can. Our goal will be to help the elderly (especially those raising their grandchildren), the immunocompromised and mobility impaired, single parents, and struggling families by helping them buy groceries, water, health supplies, and necessary items so they (and their vulnerable communities) can be protected from exposure to the virus by engaging volunteers to make these purchases and deliver them to a safe transfer location for our beneficiaries. We are also helping to stop the spread of COVID-19 on these reservations by engaging volunteers to sew masks for medical workers and first responders on Navajo and Hopi. We will also use these funds to help purchase the fabric for these masks. And we will invest in a media campaign to urge folks to stay home and socially distance, and to embrace sterilization practices. Our team is led by enrolled Navajo and Hopi tribal members. Given the amazing support for this effort, we are forming a nonprofit to manage this work and expend these funds.  

Our initial withdrawals will be deposited with our nonprofit's fiscal sponsor, Rural Utah Project, which has done incredible work on the Navajo Nation in Utah with respect to voter registration, get out the vote, and a rural addressing project. The funds from this campaign will be used to make direct purchases, or reimbursement of purchases by volunteers, of bulk food and medical items, and other purchases made on behalf of our beneficiaries, such as water, food from supermarkets, PPE, and other items necessary to keep our beneficiaries socially distanced. 

ETHEL string quartet logo