A fantastic article has appeared in the journal Southern Cultures about Willie and his career. Written byfolklorist Mike Taylor (read about Mikes band, Hiss Golden Messenger, here), the article is beautifully illustrated with photographs from Willies personal collection and many other sources. Mike conducted oral history interviews with Willie and most of the article is in Willies own words, telling his own story. Here is an excerpt…
Willie Lowery, Miriam Oxendine, and the children from Proud to be a Lumbee~c. 1979. Willies sons, Corey and Clint, are to his right. Also pictured are several nieces that sang on the album.
Willie Lowery has led a dual musical life (with, of course, much overlap) as both a southern musician and an Indian musician. As a southern musician coming of age in the 1950s and ’60s, Willie engaged with music in ways that mark the experiences of many southern musicians; these common experiences, which include musical blending of white, African American, and Indian genres, and an emphasis on place and space in tones, timbres, and lyrical content, recall the work of other southern artists such as Link Wray, Arthur Alexander, Doug Sahm, and Levon Helm. In the late 1960s and early 1970s Willie frequently shared the stage with white southern rockers such as the Allman Brothers, testament to his membership in a fraternity of musicians bound together through the emergent genre of southern rock.
At the same time, Willie’s Lumbee-centric work throughout the 1970s, ’80s, ’90s, and beyond, while thoroughly informed by a variety of southern musical genres, was highly Indian in intention and representation. His status as a conspicuously visible Native performer (he worked with Floyd Red Crow Westerman, Ulali, and Pura Fé, among others), educator, and activist demonstrates a dedication to Lumbee cultural politics that has made him a celebrity throughout Native communities in North Carolina. In truth, these dual musical identities are as entwined as the kudzu and the oak; the only place we might begin to pry them apart is on paper. However, there is no better forum to explore these issues than in conversation with Willie, preferably over a hot cup of coffee and slice of freshly baked cake.
Download the article Hello, America~The Life and Work of Willie French Lowery (requires a PDF reader, available here)