By Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer (Choctaw Nation), Artist in Business Leadership Fellow 2015
Throughout her distinguished career, singer/songwriter Annie Humphrey (Anishinaabe/Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe) has collaborated with Keith Secola, Jim Boyd, Chris Eyre (movie soundtracks), Wayne Horvitz, Winona LaDuke, Keri Pickette, and James Starkey. She partnered with John Trudell on the award-winning video “Spirit Horses.” Her CD projects include UnCombed Hair, The Sound of Ribbons, Edge of America and The Heron Smiled.
Annie was raised on an Ojibwe Indian reservation, and was a 2017 First Peoples Fund Artist in Business Leadership fellow.
We caught up with Annie this month after she wrapped a tour with the Long Hairz Collective, and receiving a prestigious honor: Native American Music Awards (NAMMYS) 2018 Artist of the Year with her newest album, The Beast and The Garden.
Congratulations on your latest award, Annie! What does this award mean to you?
Thank you. I had won other NAMMYS back in 2001. I was out on the road with my kids from 2000 - 2004 and then I put them in public school and had to get a part-time job. I wasn’t playing or writing from 2005 - 2015. Coming back and starting all over — the award really confirmed that I was doing what I should be doing again. To be recognized by industry people, the public, it felt good to get back to where I was from 15 years ago.
What was that experience like of performing during the award show?
It was a bucket list moment because I got to perform on stage with two of John Trudell’s bandmates, Mark Shark and Quiltman. These guys are epic performers. I said on stage that even though John wasn’t there physically, that these two guys were the next best things.
Why did you compile The Beast and the Garden?
I wrote it during the time I was working for Honor the Earth. I was an active organizer against the Line 3 pipeline that runs through our land. Most of the songs are about the environment and social justice.
That record was made possible directly because I had gotten a grant from First Peoples Fund, so a big thank you because that grant helped to make that record, allowed me to go to the NAMMYS, allowed me to get the award.
What was a highlight of the 2018 tour?
I took the album on tour — Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota. The highlight was that Mark Shark flew in from Portland and he did two or three shows with me. Just making music with those guys, and that they would come when I asked them, was a huge compliment.
I remember when I finished recording my very first CD, John had come in [he did spoken word parts on The Heron Smiled] on the last day of recording, and I asked him, “John, what do you think, how do you think it compares to other Native artists?”
And he said, “Don’t compare yourself to anybody else — let the music stand on its own.”
I feel like I have to follow the things he told me.
Something else First Peoples Fund paid for was to get Mark Shark on the record. It’s all connected, all woven in with John and the things he told me, all the advice he ever gave me. It was a special project, and the tour was special. I feel really honored to have known him.
How do you feel your time as an FPF fellow impacted your career?
It helped me do this comeback. The grant and having Lori’s support, it is what made this project possible, what made me educate myself and actually learn more about social media. I’m 62, and I really don’t know anything about social media. It was brought to my attention, especially being with all the other fellows. There were a lot of young ones that were there. They’re all so knowledgeable about that whole arena I know nothing about, so being there with them taught me that importance. Now my niece manages my social media.
I remember when I went to the fellows convening in Minneapolis. Lori was sitting next to me in this big talk-circle. She said, “I can’t believe that I’m sitting here at our First Peoples Fund convening next to Annie Humphrey.” I thought that was such a huge compliment, and I won’t forget that moment.
Just being selected as a recipient of the grant was awesome. It made the record possible, it made the nomination possible, it made the Artist of the Year possible.
Tell us about the Long Hairz Collective and the Healing Justice Waging Love tour?
We’ve known each other since 2001 when we met in Detroit at a benefit. I was so impressed by the young guys. I couldn’t believe how well they could articulate and get those thoughts across, a lot like John could. I asked them if they would come and do a homeless tour in Minnesota. They came, and it was awesome. We did it about 5 years in a row. Then we lost contact, life took over.
When Standing Rock was happening, another benefit in Detroit was organized and we all got back together for the first time in 10 years. The writing that they do and the show that we put on is really cool. We released a live CD. Joe Reilly (Cherokee) is a Native blues guy, Will Copeland (Will See) is a hip-hop artist with crazy intelligent lyrics, Brian Babb (Peace Be Free) is a spoken word poet from San Diego, Allison Radell (Powhatan) is a trained Jazz pianist, and singer, and then myself. The show we do is so rich. We tour every fall now.
What else would you like to share that I haven’t asked about?
I am starting a new project. All songs have been written for a new record. The title is MemoryWisdomHeartOne. That was also inspired by John. I have a picture of him on my piano, and I think he helps me write.
Thanks for sharing your journey with us, Annie. We’re honored to be a part of it.