Scripps College will present the Martha Redbone Roots Project tonight at its 21st Levitt on the Lawn concert. The concert series was organized by Scripps’s Malott Commons and was sponsored by alumna Elizabeth Levitt Hirsch ’74.
Past performers range from The Adanfo Ensemble, a group of Ghanaian musicians and dancers, to Trio Ellis, a contemporary mariachi-Latin band. According to Karen Fagan, Director of Public Events at Malott Commons, “The Levitt on the Lawn concert series was created with the goal of making live music free and accessible to all, creating a stronger and more connected community.”
Artist Martha Redbone travels across the nation to share the Martha Redbone Roots Project, a soulful tribute to her ancestors and background.
“The Roots Project is a tribute to my family; we’ve lost a lot of our grandkids, aunts, and uncles,” Redbone said. “So I thought what better way to honor them than through song … we do a lot of healing through song.”
Redbone’s musical style is described as “a blend of Native American elements with funk and deep roots in Appalachian folk and Piedmont blues.”
Her most recent album, Garden of Love: The Songs of William Blake, includes a compilation of works by renowned English poet William Blake, set to music.
When asked which other artists inspire her music, Redbone said, “I have a very wide vocabulary of music. To be honest with you, I really just enjoy great songwriting and great song melodies. I love anyone who can tell a story with their voice.”
Redbone defined her music as a combination of many genres that make up her personal style.
“It’s not straight up bluegrass, not total folk, and not blues. It’s a mixture, all these different styles of music. This is roots music,” she said.
Redbone also draws inspiration from her family.
“I thought it might be nice to sing the music of my childhood, of my mother’s childhood, and my grandmother’s childhood, and so on, and that’s how we did it,” Redbone said.
Redbone is not only a musician; she has also worked to promote the indigenous rights and cultural preservation of Native Americans, an experience that also influenced the message conveyed in her music. Her work in the community has included teaching Native American music to children, delivering speeches about indigenous rights, and holding workshops for children living on reservations. Redbone strives to prevent further exploitation of Native Americans and to share her culture with the today’s youth and future generations.
“A lot of people think Native American people are relics of the past. They don’t realize we’re still here today,” she said. “We’re trying to preserve our culture, so people don’t just think we’re romantic relics depicted in Hollywood films. Native Americans have been objectified, and that has inspired me to honor my heritage.”
According to Fagan, Redbone will also lead a workshop on traditional Native American music and cultural preservation at Scripps today.
“We are hoping that this workshop, along with the concert, will be a way of bringing attention to her work promoting indigenous people’s rights as well as honoring her heritage,” Fagan said. Pitzer’s Native American Pipeline Director and Outreach Liaison Scott Scoggins and the 5C Indigenous Student Alliance have reached out to invite members of local Native American communities to the concert as well.
The White Rose Singers, an all-female hand drum group from Sherman Indian High School, will be opening for Redbone.
“The young women bring a positive outlook on our traditions and you can feel it with the love they put into their drums,” Fagan said. “Each girl has made her own drum and knows that within [the] drums lies the heart of our many nations. The girls not only represent themselves as proud native young women, but they represent their tribes and Sherman Indian High School.”
Redbone will perform Garden of Love, her previous albums, and some classic covers of folk music. She hopes to leave her audience “feeling uplifted and on your feet and dancing.”
The concert will take place at 5:30 p.m. on Bowling Green Lawn at Scripps. All Claremont Colleges students are invited to attend free of charge.