Interview by Dawn Karima, Native Culture Editor
Many Dancers along Powwow Highway choose blue for their regalia color. Yet, for one musical talent, Blue has a totally different meaning. Musician Mary Everhart blends her Cherokee heritage into her unique style of Blues music!
DK: What a mighty sound you have! We'd love to meet the Lady behind the music?
ME: First, let me say thank you to you for speaking with me today Dawn. It is truly a pleasure and you are very welcome. My name is Mary Everhart. I am a blues and rock musician, singer, guitarist and song writer. I am also a member of the Echota Cherokee Tribe of AL. I am from Tallahassee, FL and, I have just released my 3rd CD called. ‘Light Shines Through’ .
DK: Congratulations! How did you begin to perform?
ME: My journey in music began at a very young age. I can’t remember a time I didn’t sing. My Native culture and identity is extremely important to me. It is who I am and my music comes from my heart and spirit. The songs I write are about real events in my life and even if sometimes the event isn’t so nice, at times I will poke fun at it in a song because, laughter can get you through a lot and it sure beats crying. I have played professionally for a little over 30 years in the southeast and have 3 CDs I have released since 1998. My musical journey began when I was two years old. I was adopted as a baby but, lost my adoptive mother in a car accident she and I were in and my spirit took over. I began to sing as loud as I could in the following days and would look at the sky while swinging as high as I could on my swing set. I was 12 when I got my first guitar and would sit in the woods in the tall grass with a Mel Bay book and teach myself to play it. As the years went by, life was hard and I kept playing and writing music and it comforted me. I knew I had found what I needed to survive in a world that can be so harsh at times.
DK: Many people automatically think of Native flute or drumming when we mention “Native Music”. Yet, your survival story shows us why the Blues befits Native folks as well, especially those of us from the Southeast tribes. When did you know that music was more than a calling, but a career?
ME: I started performing to audiences besides just my friends at 17. I played some private parties and pretty much anywhere I could even if it meant not telling the club owner I was underage. I used to hitchhike all over the place and have impromptu jam sessions anywhere I saw someone who wanted to play. That is where I got my first real dose of Blues music. I met some old men on a porch one day who invited me to jam with them and I was hooked!
ME: Some of my favorite accomplishments are that I have never lost my passion for music. I have had the honor of playing music with so many other artists from local to national. I was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2010 by Blues great Jimmy Lloyd Rea as a ‘Great Blues Artist’ and it was such a great honor. Jimmy is a fantastic Blues artist, and writer. In 2011 I was inducted again as the ambassador to Tallahassee, FL. Those two really stand out to me as well as standing on the Capital steps in Atlanta, GA on national radio and tv playing my music to help change the law in that state on paternity fraud. The law was later changed and it makes me happy to be a small part of helping to make it happen.
DK: Your tribal heritage seems to be a huge part of your life!
ME: My tribal heritage has always been a huge part of my everyday life even before I understood what it was. I was different than most people I grew up around and there has been a great deal of loss in my life but, my spirituality and heritage is mine and nobody can take it from me. I understand that everything is for a reason even if we don’t understand the reason. . I look for beauty in all that is around me and I do my best to share that with others. When it comes to song writing, I let my heart take over and allow the songs to write themselves. I have many what I call, spirit songs because the songs came to me and had to be written. I have a new song on my latest CD called. ‘Singing in the Wind’ and it came to me one morning when I found a hawk feather in my yard in a ray of sunlight. I gifted tobacco and sat on my porch with it and the song came. Another song on the new CD is called, ‘Let me be Myself’. I wrote it on a pad of paper as a non Native man was telling me how to be Cherokee. I meant all I said in the song but, I laugh now remembering when I wrote it. Sadly, I’m betting there aren’t too many of us who haven’t had to sit through something like that at some point .
DK: Have you overcome any obstacles that have given you the “Blues”?
ME: I would say that one of the biggest obstacles has been being one of the only Natives that I know of in this area and dealing with the ignorance and ugliness of some people. I have never felt comfortable but, it has helped me to write songs. It has also been hard to be taken seriously as a woman guitarist in a male dominated field. I kind of had the double whammy in this area being both Native and female.
I believe the best qualities an artist or performer can have is to be real. Be who you are and write what you know and feel and, the ability to convey that to those who listen to your music. You have to make your audience feel like they are right there in the situation with you. If they can feel the emotion of the song they are much more likely to relate to it. I think the ability to laugh at yourself is a good quality to have too. I think the most destructive qualities are to pretend to be someone you’re not and also, to let outside things knock you off your path like, drugs, drinking, or being full of yourself. Those things may seem like they help short term but, you are setting yourself up for a big fall or humbling.
DK: Are there any artists that influence YOU?
ME: My favorite artists, I have so many but, I of course love Blues music from real Blues artists. I would say one of my favorites is, the late great John Lee Hooker. Nobody could boogie like he could plus, such primal and intense vocals that would reach right inside your chest and give your heart a little squeeze. Another one of my favorite artists was Willie Dixon. Such a fantastic bass player and deep songwriter. And also Sonny Boy Williamson. He was just so cool when he would come out on stage and could play his harp like nobody else. I also have a great fondness for powerful women vocalists. Like for instance, KoKo Taylor. I love her because her voice was a powerhouse and she always said what she was thinking in her songs and everyone who heard that knew it. She wasn’t taking any trash from anyone.
Aretha Franklin is another and because of her vocal control. Wow, she gives me goose bumps when I listen to her older music. And Sister Rosetta Tharpe. She is the mother to all of us female guitarists. Without her, I’m sure there wouldn’t be so many of us now. So many others also but, those come to mind right now. There are two Native flute players I love to listen to and would have to say are my favorites also. Jay Red Eagle is one because his music makes me feel my blood and it comforts me. He is also a dear friend of mine and such a talented musician. Many times when I have had a rough day I go to Jay’s youtube page and listen his flute music. I also really enjoy listening to Mark Thunderwolf. His music touched the heart of my autistic son and you can really feel his spirit in his music.
DK: How can we enjoy and hear your music?
ME: All of my CDs can be bought on CDbaby and their global affiliates like itunes and Amazon.com and many others. You can also hear my music on my website www.maryeverhartblues.com as well as Soundcloud, Reverb Nation and my videos on youtube. There is a link on my website with clips of the new CD ‘Light Shines Though’ with a link to buy the CD or a download of it.
I would like everyone to know that I feel each day is a blessing and I am very happy to have had this time to speak to you today Dawn. I would like for everyone to know that throughout this journey I have been knocked down many times but, I have not been knocked out. I am proud to be a strong Cherokee woman and thankful for all Creator has given me.