The Making of Keeper of the Family

Keeper of the Family is truly a work of love, faith and, devotion.  This album is the result of the collaborative efforts of numerous people investing talent, time and energy over a year and a half to create a unique and very special work of cultural art.

The name of this album, Keeper of the Family, embodies women as life-givers.  We women nurture, protect and sustain those in our care. Too often women, in caring for their families, put themselves last on the list of priorities. This album reminds us how important we are to our families; that in order to provide well for them, we have to also take care of ourselves.  Keeper of the Family focuses on women because we need to learn to appreciate who we are and what we do; we need to love ourselves as we love those around us.

I chose the Cherokee cornhusk doll to represent the female spirit.   In the Cherokee traditional culture, it was Selu, Corn Mother, who brought the gift of life-sustaining corn to the People.  The cornhusk doll dressed in calico represents the mingling of two cultures, European and Cherokee.  The mountains in the background represent the Great Smokey Mountains, the original homeland of the Cherokee.

Language preservation has been a passion for me.  Bringing the Cherokee language into songs allows people an opportunity to learn words or simple phrases.  Putting language to music and rhythm makes it easier to recall and may encourage further exploration into learning one’s native tongue. 

Over the years, I have been blessed by Creator to be a Song Catcher.  For many years I’ve dreamed of making a CD as a legacy to some of my many songs.  I am in the season of my life when, if this dream was to become a reality, then it must happen now.  And then it did happen; it all came together… in August 2014, the journey to create this album began.

Nora Thurmond, my dear friend, was former singer with “Sisters,” a Native hand drum group.   One day I shared my dream with her.  I wanted to make a recording of my songs, and I also wanted to record some songs in a contemporary style with harmonies and instrumentation.  It was then that Nora confided in me that, from the first time she and I met at a Native Women’s Drum Retreat years before, she had hoped one day to sing harmony with me.  My heart blossomed!

Nora suggested we work with Steve Bayard, her husband’s cousin, who had recently moved to Grass Valley. Steve is an accomplished guitarist.  Working in tandem, Steve and Nora became the technical advisors to the projects.  They worked together to create the harmony parts for the singers, as well. Our practice sessions started in early August 2014, with Steve providing background accompaniment on the guitar. I sang the melody; Nora, the lower harmony, and the beautiful upper harmonies were sung by Tonya Elliott and Lindsey Thurmond.

At the end of August 2014, we began our recording sessions with Paul Kraushaar, PSR Studio in Grass Valley. With Paul on board, our creative energy and enthusiasm flowed.  Although it was harder work than I ever imagined, we had grand fun in the studio and filled it with so much laughter I can still hear it echoing in my ears.

Steve Bayard played background with his guitar on many songs.  His creative riffs and guitar solos in “My Darlin’” and “No Goodbye” were stunning.  Eric Ray, aka Gvwi, award-winning Native flutist, gifted beautiful flute solos on “Gifts” and “Usti.”  Two local artists, Homer Wills (harmonica), and J.T. Lawrence (banjo and mandolin) added to the spirit of the Shining Woman album with their instrumental solos.

When I caught, “Colors Are Everywhere,” I could hear children’s voices in this song.  Fortunately, there were plenty of children within our group of singers eager to learn the song! Tonya Elliott’s daughter and granddaughter, Nora Thurmond’s granddaughter, and Jennifer West Trantham’s son, and her numerous nieces became the voices of the children.  One day in April 2015, the families gathered at Paul’s studio in Grass Valley.  That was a banner day! So much fun with the kids and an experience none of them will forget. These children made the Color Song come alive.

In August 2015, after many months of preparation, Otsigeya began recording our drum songs with our mother drum at Baxter Ranch Recording Studio located in the mountains in rural Auburn.  Matt Baxter’s studio was spacious and easily accommodated our large drum surrounded by all the singers.  The voices of Otsigeya were Gwen Cochran, Tonya Elliott, Kathy Growney, Brandy Leonard, Valerie Retallack Shirley Rowland, and Jennifer West Trantham, Barbara Warren and Nora Thurmond as a guest voice.  As a service drum, Otsigeya is vigilant in keeping positive energy in our drum circle.  That good, healing energy flows through every song.  All Disc 2 songs were recorded in Matt’s studio with the exception of the last song, “Going to Water (Otsigeya),” which was recorded in Paul’s studio.  The strength of our bonds of sisterhood and the unity of our circle were an essential, vital part of this album.  I am forever grateful to each singer for her dedication to learning the song lyrics and melodies, the countless hours of practice, and the numerous miles traveled.  Preparing for the recording and the experience of recording in the studio made us stronger singers and brought us even closer as a group.

My original intent was to put all the songs on one CD.  However, it soon became apparent that the contemporary and the traditional song styles were so different that putting them together on one CD would not work.  Even though I decided it best to make two separate CDs, I wanted to keep both CDs together in the same album. In order to make a distinction between the CDs, I named them: “Shining Woman Disc 1”; “Otsigeya Disc 2.” My name, Shining Woman, was given to me over twenty-five years ago.  I try to live a lifestyle that gives honor to that name.

I cannot say enough in words of appreciation for all those involved in the making of Keeper of the Family.  Throughout many months it took to create this project, I was amply blessed with the support of remarkably talented people and their unwavering faith in me… Together, we made it happen! This has been one of the most gratifying experiences of my life, and now there are the memories to hold dear.

I hope the joy and love embedded in this album will gently touch the hearts of all who listen.

~ Barbara A. Warren, aka Shining Woman