DC at Night

DC at Night

Sunday, August 11, 2013

A History Lesson in Song

She was the inspiration for the Leon Russell classic "Delta Lady". She was a singer in some of the biggest touring bands of the 60's including Joe Cocker and the Mad Dogs and Englishmen and Delaney, Bonnie, and Friends. With her then-husband Kris Kristofferson, she formed one of the greatest husband/wife teams in rock n' roll. And this past weekend, Rita Coolidge, now 68, appeared in concert at the National Museum of the American Indian.

Her appearance at the museum as part of its Indian Summer Showcase Series was especially appropriate since Coolidge is a member of the Cherokee Nation. A few years ago, joined by her sister and niece, she released a CD of Native American music titled Walela, which is Coolidge's Cherokee name. Translated Walela means hummingbird.

In a 90-minute set, Coolidge, backed by a tight, talented quartet, delivered history lessons in both rock and Indian culture. The set featured cover versions of songs from some of the greatest songwriters in rock including Leonard Cohen, Allen Toussaint, Smokey Robinson, and Kristofferson. Before many numbers, Coolidge would offer background stories of how the songs came to be included in her live repertoire. For example, she talked about the impact of touring with Eric Clapton as part of Delaney and Bonnie and dedicated the Carpenters' hit "Superstar" to the famed British guitarist.

She and the band slipped effortlessly from the soul sounds of her big 70's hits "Higher and Higher" and "The Way You Do The Things You Do" to a sultry jazz take on the Peggy Lee classic "Fever" to the Memphis guitar-driven blues of Albert King's "Born Under a Bad Sign."

Some of the most interesting moments of the concert came during Coolidge's inclusion of a trio of Native American songs, two of which she had written.  The 1st was "Muddy Water,"  a tune about the travails of the Native Americans who were forced to relocate to the west during the presidency of Andrew Jackson. The 2nd, "I Have No Indian Name," came from a discussion Coolidge had with a young Native American woman who had been raised in a white family and never given an Indian name. (To listen to this song performed by Walela, click here)

The emotional high point of the night was a stirring version of "Amazing Grace," which Coolidge sang in her native Cherokee language. The favored religious hymn was the most sung song as Coolidge's Cherokee people marched on the Trail of Tears from the East Coast to Oklahoma.

Tales, Tidbits,and Tips
The final concert in the Indian Summer series will feature C. J. Chenier and the Red Hot Louisiana Band on Sept. 21. Chenier is the Creole son of the Grammy-award winning “King of Zydeco” Louisiana pioneer Clifton Chenier. Following in his father’s footsteps he now leads his father’s band as an accordion performer and singer of Zydeco, a blend of Cajun and Creole music. Zydeco is the music of Southwest Louisiana's Black Creoles, a group of people of mixed African, Afro-Caribbean, Native American and European descent.

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