Plains Indian

Posted by Ellen

In 1916, the Mountain Chief of the Piegan Blackfeet participated in a recording session with ethnologist Frances Densmore, who traveled the American West collecting Native music and reminiscences. The songs were recorded on wax cylinders and later pressed on vinyl.

In recent years, the Smithsonian has reissued much of the music, including a CD featuring a photo taken at the same time as this one. But the Blackfeet songs on the Smithsonian CD were all recorded no earlier than the 1930s. They are typical of Plains Indian songs, with elaborate vocalizations but very few words.

It is said that earlier Blackfeet songs, perhaps including the ones sung by this chief in 1916, had many more words and told long, complicated stories. Like so much of Native culture, it seems, the words are all gone now, and the singers have to try to sing without them.