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Nanyehi

 

Disregard for the past will never do us any good.
Without it we cannot know truly who we are. - Syd Moore

 

By: Gina Kay Singerhouse

Editor

 

(This article was printed in the September / October 2015 issue of Strictly Country.)

 

   Take a moment to ponder on the following question:  If you were able to travel to any point in history, knowing that you could safely return to this moment in time, where would you go?  What historical event or place would you like to observe?

   I have often asked entertainers, especially new entertainers, this question as part of a personal ritual to get to know the individual.  Majority of the entertainers respond with the birth or the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.  I had one entertainer say the signing of the Declaration of Independence and another say the landing on the beaches of Normandy during D-day.  Whatever your answer may be, just ponder over all of the events that took place in history and consider which one interests you.

   One of the most atrocious situations that is occurring right now is taking place in our public school systems.  The situation is the lack of teaching history.  Back in the day, History class was one of the main staples of public education.  Now with the introduction of courses that should be taught at home, history class has been placed on the back burner and even deleted from the curriculum.

   Without history, there would be no future.

   Consider and contemplate on the above statement for a moment.  It’s an amazing statement that inspires such a vast display of consideration, deliberation and understanding of the world around us.  Without history, there would be no future.

   One of the biggest stories in American history, is rarely taught.  In fact, one of the only actions of learning about this story is through personal family history.  Another approach of learning about this story is by visiting the several tourist attractions based on this story.  The story is about Nanyehi, a beloved woman of the Cherokee nation of Native Americans.  The story is as follows...

   In the valleys of Chota, the capital of the Cherokee Nation, lies a camp of Cherokee Indians. The year is 1738 and their nation is in what is now eastern Tennessee.

    Their teepees are gathered together which shows a close knit community.  It's early morning and the dew is still upon the blades of grass, when a scream is heard from one of the teepees.  A child is born.  At that same moment, among the horizon a white wolf appears.  Members of the tribe know, that this child is a child of peace.  For the white wolf told them so.

  The child's name is Nanyehi, which means “she who walks among the spirit people.”  Nanyehi was born in to the Wolf Clan, one of the most prominent of the seven Cherokee clans.

  In 1755, Nanyehi accompanied her husband, Kingfisher, to war against the Creek Indians in the Battle of Taliwa.  Nanyehi, knelt beside her husband, chewing the bullets to make them more deadly. During the battle Kingfisher was killed.

   In honor of her husband, Nanyehi picked up his rifle and led the Cherokee to victory.  She was honored as a “War Woman” and was given the right to sit on the War Council, and deemed the leader of the Women's Council.  She was granted power, that even the Chiefs didn't have.  In her position, she could determine the fate of captives, whether they be killed, enslaved, released, or adopted into the tribe.  Nanyehi went on to use her powerful position of War Woman to promote peace between the Cherokee and the white settlers, the British, the French, and other tribes.

   After years of leading her people, tending to the wounded and caring for the many orphans; she was elevated to the highest position a woman could have, that of “Ghigau,” or “Beloved Woman.”  She was given a shawl of white swan feathers, which remained a symbol of her authority for the rest of her life.

  She met her second husband, Bryant Ward, who was a trader in Cherokee country of Irish descent.  She became known as “Nancy Ward” to the American settlers.  Nancy Ward played one of the most important roles in American History.

   Nanyehi entered the spirit world in 1822.  Witnesses say that a white light rose from her chest, swirled around the room, took the form of a swan, and flew out the window toward her beloved Chota.

 

   In 2011, Country Music singer and song writer, Becky Hobbs began a monumental journey to capture and share the story of Nanyehi.  Hobbs is known for her influential and powerful music.  Since emerging on the musical scene in 1974, she has written songs for Helen Reddy, George Jones, Loretta Lynn and Shelly West.  Her more notable song “Angels Among Us” was made famous by Alabama in 1994.  A year later, Ken Mellons recorded her song “Rub-a-Dubbin’.”

   As a direct descendent of Nanyehi, Hobbs unquestionably wanted to share the story of her 5th Great-grandmother.

   “My mother always told me that I was a direct decedent of Nancy Ward, Beloved Woman of the Cherokee, ever since I could remember.” shares Becky Hobbs. “Probably four years old and up.  She would remind me about it.  She would say ‘Now you know Becca, you’re a direct decedent of Nancy Ward, Beloved Woman of the Cherokee.’ I loved to hear the story about her. So all my life, pretty much.  My mother was pretty proud of her Cherokee blood.  We’re descended from Nanyehi - Nancy Ward - through all females.”

   Hobb’s journey has led her to release a beautiful album, Nanyehi: Beloved Woman of The Cherokee, in 2011.  The seventeen cut album tells the story of Nanyehi from birth through to death, with the use of song.  This album was produced to coincide a world class musical.  Hobbs teamed up with Nick Sweet to create a beautiful interpretation of Nanyehi’s story. 

   “I always knew that one day I would pay tribute to her life.” shares Becky.  “I didn’t know quite how.  I started playing piano when I was nine years old. Instead of reading the big notes on a sheet of paper, I made up my own songs; ‘cause it was a lot easier to do that and it still is.  Right around the early ‘90’s I started writing a tribute album to Nancy Ward. I wrote a handful of the songs that are now in the musical.  But then my country music career took over and I got very busy on the road.  So I sort of put the project aside. Then eight years ago, I met Nick Sweet and he was directing a little tribute show to the Centennial (of Oklahoma).  He said ‘We otta write a musical based on Nancy Ward’s life. That was the first time I had thought about ever writing a musical.  I wasn’t even familiar with the world of musicals. So, Nick and I embarked on this project almost eight years ago.”

   The World Premier performance of Nanyehi: Beloved Woman of The Cherokee opened in Hartwell, Georgia, in April 2012.  The six show run was embraced by sold out attendance with standing ovations.

   The show continued the following year with four performances at the Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, Oklahoma.

   In 2014, the show received raving reviews as it was presented eight times a The Kingsport Renaissance Art Center in Kingsport, Tennessee.  The show continued with three more performances at The Joint, Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

   “Every show we have done - we have had twenty-one shows - every show we’ve had a standing ovation and pretty much not a dry eye in the house.” tells Becky about the audience reaction to the show.  “After every show I go out to the merch table and I talk with people and I sign autographs.  I get so many comments like ‘oh you made me cry’ and ‘oh my God the music was beautiful’ and ‘when are you coming back, I want to bring my friends, I want to bring my kids, I want to bring my parents.’  We have had a great, great response.  I feel like its a people musical.”

   The show will return to Tulsa for a fourth run in 2015.  Dates for the show are scheduled for November 5, 6 and 7; with auditions slated for September 19 & 20.  For more information about the show please visit www.Nanyehi.com.

   Adjacent to the Nanyehi musical, Becky has been very busy.  In October 2015, the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame will induct Becky along with Restless Heart, Tim DuBois, Scott Hendricks and Smiley Weaver.  The event will take place on October 16th at the Muskogee Civic Center in Muskogee, Oklahoma.

  Hobbs also joined the Daughters of The American Revolution (DAR) back in June.

  “I joined DAR expressly to honor Nancy Ward, because she was considered a Patriot in the Revolutionary War.” shares Hobbs. “Therefore, any of her decedents can qualify to become a DAR members. I joined only to honor her, because I really don’t have a lot in common with a lot of these woman...others are very interested in the history of our country and most of them are very respectful and interested in Native American history. In joining the DAR, I’ve learned that there was so much I was ignorant about as far as our country and I’ve really been inspired to learn more about it.”

   On September 18, 2015, Becky Hobbs will join myself and my co-host Jack during a live show of Strictly Country’s Friday night radio show - Around The Campfire.  On the show, Hobbs will tell us more about Nanyehi, Nancy Ward, and the musical.  We will also feature songs from the album Nanyehi: Beloved Woman of The Cherokee.  Becky will also give away an autographed copy of the album to one lucky listener.  Interesting parties can listen to the show beginning September 18th through September 25th on our website at: www.Strictly-Country.com, lower right hand corner of the home page.  Listen to the show to hear how you can register to win the autographed copy of the album.

   “I want them to walk out of theater feeling like they have learned something, they know more about Cherokee history and our country’s history.” shares Hobbs. “I want them to feel like they can make a difference in the world and we all can work together for peace.”

   History is full of stories.  Some are lost in the abyss of life while others share a legacy.  Continue Nanyehi’s legacy of peace...

  Without history, there would be no future.

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