By Hailey Scherer ’20
There is no better way to honor your family and your heritage than to share it, joyfully and truthfully, with others. Martha Redbone did just that with her performance of Bone Hill: The Concert in Spaulding Auditorium of the Hopkins Center on Friday, September 30, gracing the stage with her powerhouse vocals, her winning smile, and, of course, her ancestors’ story.
Redbone is a celebrated voices in American roots music, which, in her case, combines aspects from traditional Cherokee music, bluegrass, blues, gospel, jazz, rock ‘n’ roll and R&B. The result is an eclectic, vibrant mosaic that reflects her own experience, including her earliest years spent in the Appalachian hills of Harlan County, Kentucky, and her teenage years spent in Brooklyn, NY. In her life and in her music, Redbone accepts in full the inheritance of culture and identity from both her Cherokee/Chocktaw mother and her gospel-singing father, and makes it her own in a way that celebrates all who came before her.
Her most recent manifestation of this endeavor is Bone Hill: The Concert, a collection of songs she wrote with her husband and band member Aaron Whitby, in which she explores the lives of her female ancestors–all the way back to her Great-Grandmother Liza, ending finally with herself–and the connection she still feels with her land and her Cherokee people, despite coming from such a different time and perspective than the women of those previous generations.
Redbone commanded the stage with her presence and illuminated the auditorium with her direct and honest words, describing the harsh truths of the treatment of Native Americans in the United States’ history, but balancing it also with an irresistible, effervescent joy. Her full, canary-yellow skirt swirled as she swayed, hopped and danced to her music, inviting the audience into her life, into her truths and her joy, with a genuine word and an honest smile.
She was joined onstage by Whitby (co-writer, musical director, piano, organ), Charlie Burnham (violin, harmonica), Fred Cash (bass), Tony Mason (drums), Marvin Sewell (banjo, acoustic and electric guitar) and singers Mary Wormworth and Soni Moreno, all of whom worked well together to bring the story to life with a driving beat and a texture to compliment the multifaceted nature of the tale. The show is rich with dynamics, ranging from Redbone’s crooning of the softest of words to filling the house with soul-moving, full-bodied vocal runs. The score also capitalizes on the warm, thrilling harmonies full of the very tension and beauty that the lyrics illustrate that Redbone, Wormworth and Moreno built on each other’s voices.
Redbone describes the pain and pride of entire groups of people—the Cherokee, African Americans and those living in between, or in both worlds—in a way that invites others not only to listen, but to take joy and true enrichment in the act of listening. She challenges and subverts assumptions and falsehoods with directness and with humor, and she infuses soul into every word she sings and movement she makes. All this combined into a performance that earned its standing ovation.
Hailey Scherer is a ’20 at Dartmouth College from northern Virginia. She is so enthusiastic about continuing her relationship with all things theater and performance through the Arts Ambassadors, and will continue to explore all the fantastic wide-ranging opportunities that the HOP affords in the coming years.