In honor of Native American Heritage Month, let’s explore the works of 8 Native American composers you should know about.
Louis W. Ballard is a Cherokee and Quapaw composer widely regarded as “the father of Native American composition.” Ballard’s music has been well received in virtually every classical music circle. His virtuosity landed him the distinction of being the first American composer to have a concert at Beethovenhalle held in his honor. Ballard is the recipient of countless awards and honors, acknowledging his contributions to classical music and the inspiration he provides to other indigenous artists.
Starting his career with a Carnegie Hall performance at the age of 12, Navajo pianist and composer Connor Chee never ceases to amaze his audiences. Chee incorporates traditional Navajo sounds into his pieces, creating beautiful and original cross-cultural compositions.
Inspired by his artistic parents, Jerod Impichchaachaaha’Tate of the Chickasaw Nation uses his indigenous heritage and traditional instruments to create his symphonies, ballets, and operas. Tate also makes use of indigenous languages in his compositions. He has incorporated at least 20 indigenous languages in addition to his native Chickasaw tongue into his works, creating a litany of cross-cultural compositions honoring many Native American tribes.
Odawa composer Barbara Croall is known internationally for her unique compositions and beautiful pieces for full orchestras and soloists. Croall founded and directs Women of the Four Directions, which encourages the participation of indigenous women in creative cultural arts.
Michael Begay of the Diné Nation composes experimental music in a variety of genres. He is particularly known for blending traditional indigenous instruments and piano. Begay works as an instructor to promote Native American participation in classical music and orchestration.
Decorated Mohican flutist and composer Brent Michael Davids is a highly accomplished contemporary classical composer. Davids is best known for his film compositions. He founded Mohican Friends, a group to help younger Mohican composers incorporate the Mohican language and ideals into their classical music training.
Navajo performer R. Carlos Nakai is recognized as one of the world’s top Native American flutists. Nakai’s music style combines elements gleaned from numerous genres, including western classical music, building on traditional indigenous musical traditions.
Raven Chacon, a Diné composer, combines classical and electronic music to express indigenous viewpoints. His experimental music is appreciated by audiences around the world who seek unconventional musical perspectives. Chacon is also an acclaimed visual artist, represented in alternative exhibitions across the United States.