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  • Martha Redbone: “Drums”

    Camera: Charlie Weber, Hannah Luc, Jackson Harvey, Emma Cregan, John Wetmore, John Paulson, Kaylie Connors, Pruitt Allen
    Audio: Dave Walker
    Editing: Abigail Hendrix

    In the finale Sisterfire concert of the 2018 Folklife Festival, Martha Redbone joined Toshi Reagon, BIGLovely, and the Bernice Johnson Reagon Songbook singers in a performance of “Drums.”

    Written by folk musician Peter La Farge in 1964, the song describes the U.S. government’s mandate to remove Native American children from reservations for the purpose of education and assimilation into Western culture. It tells the story from the perspective of the thousands of families whose children were forcibly removed from their homelands. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the Bureau of Indian Affairs founded additional boarding schools based on the assimilation model of the off-reservation Carlisle Indian Industrial School.

    Redbone is among the vocalists on a recording of “Drums” that became part of an exhibition at the National Museum of the American Indian. Earlier recordings of La Farge’s powerful song are available from Smithsonian Folkways Recordings.

    “It’s truly an honor to be a part of the Roadwork Sisterfire family with so many wonderful and inspiring women, old friends and new,” Redbone reflected on the concert.

    Charlie Weber is the media director at the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage.

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