By Don Cazentre
Joanne Shenandoah, who grew up on the Oneida Indian Nation before becoming a world-renowned singer and peace / human rights activist, has died at age 64.
Tributes poured in today for Shenandoah, a Grammy-award winner who released more than a dozen albums and performed at venues ranging from the White House and Carnegie Hall to the Vatican.
“Woke up to the news that my dear friend Joanne Shenandoah transitioned to the other side last evening,” Syracuse musician and common councilor Joe Driscoll posted on Facebook today. “She was a true musical healer, who brought joy, healing, and laughter everywhere she went.”
Shenandoah’s official web site describes her as a “Grammy Award Winning Artist, Lecturer, Educator, Ambassador of Peace, Earth Advocate.” She won the Grammy in the Native American music category for her part in the 2006 album “Sacred Ground: A Tribute to Mother Earth.”
“Shenandoah’s national popularity is built on her original compositions, storytelling, educational programs and vocal skill,” syracuse.com entertainment writer Linda Loomis once wrote. “A member of the Wolf Clan of the Oneidas, she describes herself as a peace advocate, and was honored in 2017 with the American Indian Society of Washington D. C.’s award for advancing the empowerment of Native Americans through social, political, legal, environmental, and educational initiatives.”
The Associated Press called her one of “America’s most celebrated and critically acclaimed Native American musicians of her time.”
Shenandoah received an Honorary Doctorate of Music from Syracuse University in 2002. In 2007, she received both a Lifetime Achievement Award from the national Native American Music Awards and entered the Hall of Fame at the Syracuse Area Music Awards.
“Joanne’s beautiful embellishing voice, strong Iroquois traditions, unequivocal elegance and courteous grace made her a prominent role model and highly respected musical Matriarch among Native American communities as well as the mainstream music community at large,” the Native American Music Awards group said in a statement. “She sang with deep roots from her ancestors and flawlessly incorporated her oral traditions into contemporary Folk, Country and Americana formats. She captured the hearts of audiences all over the world and always took time to encourage and inspire younger musicians in her travels. She made an incredible impact on this earth and has paved paths for so many. The Native American Music Awards will continue to best ensure and preserve her legacy. She will be greatly missed.”
Shenandoah battled liver disease in the past few years, but continued to perform, including a production of her own “SkyWoman” symphony with Syracuse’s Symphoria at the annual Convention Days of the National Women’s Rights Historical Park in Seneca Falls in 2018.
She was receiving treatment at the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix, Ariz. at the time of her death, according to family members. Survivors include her husband, Doug George-Kanentiio and her daughter, Leah.