Black Lodge Singers

Black Lodge Singers
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The Black Lodge Singers are one of the most respected northern style drum groups on the pow-wow circuit, highly in demand as a host drum throughout the United States and Canada. This Grammy Nominated drum group has more than thirty albums.

Drum Group: Black Lodge Singers
Style: Northern
Head Singer: Kenny Scabby Robe (Blackfeet)
Other Singers: Kenny’s wife Louise (Yakama), and his 12 sons.
Tribe: Blackfeet and Yakama
Location: White Swan, Washington

Black Lodge SingersKenny is noted on the circuit as one of the leading pow-wow song makers. Two of his sons, John and Elgin, are also known for their prolific original song making and beautiful singing voices.

Specializing in the traditional Native American Northern Plains music, the 12-member group sings in their native Blackfoot language while each member beats a steady rhythm on a large, sacred buffalo drum. However, they have done two children’s song albums with some English words interlaced into their traditional music, which have been a big hit with both native and non-native kids.

The Black Lodge Singers have made 31 albums, with over twenty of their albums on the Canyon Records label. The Black Lodge Singers won a Native American Music Award on several occasions, including 1998 Best Powwow Album, 2000 Debut Group, and 2004 Best Powwow Music.

In 1994, they were Grammy Award Finalists in the Best Traditional Folk Album category for their collaboration with R. Carlos Nakai and William Eaton on the album, Ancestral Voices.

2006 brought a third Grammy nomination to the group in the Native American category for More Kids’ Pow-Wow Songs. Previous nominations include Weasel Tail’s Dream (2002) and Tribute to the Elders (2001). Their albums The People Dance, Enter the Circle: Pow-Wow Songs Recorded Live at Coeur D’Alene, Round Dance Tonight! and Kid’s Pow-Wow Songs, display their creativity and innovation as a traditional drum with original compositions.

Their collection of kid songs makes kids of all ages laugh and get up and dance. Song titles include: Mighty Mouse, Ask Your Mom for 50 Cents, Flintstones, Hakuna Matata, Bunny Hop and many other favorites. After having performed these songs live during Tiny Tot dance contests for many years, they have finally put them to tape. As far as we know, this collection of songs is the first of it’s kind.

Never ones to shy from new challenges, the Black Lodge Singers performed with the Phoenix Symphony in the world debut of the classical composition, “Native Drumming,” written especially for their drum, voices and orchestra. Composer James DeMars, who has written several classical compositions for R. Carlos Nakai, met with the Black Lodge Singers at their home pow-wow in White Swan, Washington to learn their singing style and song structure to be able to compose these works.

Since Kenny Scabby Robe, 68, formed the group in 1982 with his 12 sons, the Black Lodge Singers — named for a band of tribal guardians who historically watched over the Blackfeet camp — have recorded 31 albums, been nominated for seven Grammy Awards, won top prizes at powwows, played with rock stars and orchestras, and performed for international audiences and dignitaries, including Pope John Paul II.

“Black Lodge gets superior sound because they have been singing to each other such a long time. The uniformity of their singing and the tightness of it—that isn’t easy to do,” says Robert Doyle, president of Canyon Records, the Phoenix, Arizona based recording company that has released 21 of Black Lodge’s albums. “Artistically, that makes them very strong.”

But Kenny Scabby Robe wasn’t thinking about sound quality when he made an off-hand remark that altered his family’s fate 32 years ago.

His sons, then ages 15 to toddler, begged Scabby Robe to take them to the powwow near their Yakama Nation home. Powwows are festive gatherings where dozens of groups come to sing, dance, drum and compete for prizes.

“I knew if I took them they’d want popcorn and all that stuff,” recalls Kenny, who worked as a laborer at the time. “I didn’t have that kind of money, so I told the boys —as a way to get out of going— that I’d take them only if they were going to sing and dance.”

Within days the boys were practicing, and Scabby Robe decided to teach them the traditional songs that he learned as a child and others that he had sung with his father-in-law, renowned singer Jim Weasel Tail, who died in 1975.

From the beginning, John, the middle son, was compelled by the spiritual and celebratory nature of the music. He prayed for the gift of song in the family’s sweat lodge, and melodies came to mind.

“It was important to me that we have our own songs,” says John, now 35 and living in White Swan.

With his father’s help, John added lyrics to the melodies, and the boys began rehearsing, sometimes twice a day.

Nowadays, the group performs mostly original material—sometimes melodies without lyrics—created by John and other brothers who hum the tunes until the others learn it by ear. The Scabby Robes don’t read music.

“The music is mostly on a feeling level,” John says. “We don’t sing for the glory or the hype or the recognition. We’re singing from the heart for all the people out there. It’s feeling music that helps spiritually and mentally.”

Though oldest brother Thomas died in 2003, and others have left White Swan, the Black Lodge Singers still perform at more than 100 events and powwows each year. Other musicians sometimes fill in for an absent brother, but performing is primarily a family endeavor, shared with wives and children, who travel with the group. Kenny Scabby Robe hopes his grandchildren will carry on the tradition.

Video:Medley of Songs from More Kid’s Pow Wow Songs

Black Lodge Singers – Elmo’s World and Old MacDonald Had a Farm

Black Lodge Singers – 96 Love Songs, recorded live at Coeur d’Alene powwow

Recordings:

Kids’ Pow-Wow Songs Crow Hop (Single -$.99) Enter The Circle

Veterans' Honor Songs

More Kids' Pow-Wow Songs

Weasel Tail's Dream

Tribute To The Elders

It's Been A Long Time Comin'

Brotherhood

Pow-Wow People

Round Dance Tonight

Pow-Wow Highway Songs

Pow-Wow Songs Recorded Live in Arizona

Pow-Wow Songs Rec. Live At Ft. Duchesne

Pow-Wow Songs Recorded Live At White Swan

The People Dance

World War I & II

Family Traditions

Voices Across the Canyon, Volume Five: A Canyon Records Collection
by Sharon Burch, Jay Begaye, William Eaton, Medicine Dream, and Black Lodge Singers[Music CD]