The only Native American woman to receive a Grammy, for music composed with the flute, came to American River College in professor Van Regenmorter’s World Music class on March 23.
Mary Youngblood was awarded two Grammys for “Best Native American Music Album,” the first entitled, “Beneath the Raven Moon,” in 2002, and the second entitled “Dance with the Wind,” in 2006.
Youngblood began playing the classical flute at nine years old.
“When I was in fourth grade my family moved from Seattle to Tuscan, and fourth grade is the year you can join the school band. Well since we moved in the middle of the year all of the instruments had been taken except the flute and I didn’t care what I played as long as I could play something,” Youngblood said.
It wasn’t until Youngblood was in her mid-30’s that she started to play the Native flute.
“I was working at a Native American gallery in Old Sacramento and befriended a gentleman (owner of store) across the street. He needed a ride back to South Dakota and was so selling flutes to pay the way. So my boss bought four of them and he said I should be playing a Native flute since I was Native,” said Youngblood.
After Youngblood got her first Native flute, she began practicing everyday and even performed for customers. In fact, the first time after she played, people in the store clapped for her.
“The Native American flute is mainly improvised. It is played from the heart,” said Youngblood.
Youngblood was adopted when she was a child and commented on how music helped her deal with her upbringing.
“I was adopted and raised in a non-Indian home. The journey was very painful. Music helped me to express that frustration, angst, and pain,” said Youngblood. “That is how I dealt with my pain.”
More than anything, Youngblood feels playing music gives her a voice.
“There was a time I couldn’t use my mouth to talk, too much pain. For me it’s healing,” said Youngblood.
She gave more than just a few performances for the world music class. Youngblood gave her advice and wisdom in regards to making it in the music industry.
“In this day and age with the music industry morphing and changing the way it is you have to be your own music expertise,” said Youngblood “Spending time in the studio with your music engineer and understanding everything is what you have to do.”
Youngblood elaborated on this idea by pointing out an artist she felt had remade herself.
“I gave Lady Gaga a standing ovation at the Grammys and Oscars. She reinvented herself. What she did at the Oscars was kick it,” said Youngblood.
Youngblood gave insight into how she is currently trying to reinvent herself by looking to work with R&B artists such as John Legend and Pharrel Williams.
Beyond being a two time Grammy winner Youngblood also gives back to the community. She works with men of color in Folsom prison and feels the flute is therapeutic for the inmates.
“If everyone had a flute in prison how awesome would that be?” asked Youngblood.
She has also done work with and continues to do work with hospice patients.
“I think this instrument should be the one to be in hospice all the time,” said Youngblood.
Her music collection goes beyond just flutes.
“I have over 250 flutes, maybe twenty are in pitch,” said Youngblood “Drum kits, an upright piano, a keyboard with fully weighted keys and eight guitars among many other obscure instruments.”
Professor Van Regenmorter was glad to have Youngblood come speak and perform for his class.
“Having Youngblood provides something I can’t do on my own, because for one I don’t play the flute, but also she has the background and culture,” said Van Regenmorter. “She offers a perspective that is great for students to hear and understand.”