Art Works Blog

Art Works Podcast: Dennis Yerry

If music is a language, then Native American Dennis Yerry is a multi-linguist, as we learn in this week's podcast. With a background in jazz piano and cabaret, he has played in many clubs around New York City throughout the years, including the Knickerbocker, Tavern on the Green, and the Waldorf Astoria. In the past few years, he's also added singing to his repertoire, and has teamed up with cabaret artist Ann Osmond to perform an eclectic program of jazz piano and American song.

But that's just one side of Yerry. He is known primarily as a Native-American composer and musical director. He wrote the music for Black Elk Speaks, a Native-American production in Denver. He then re-imagined and composed new music for the annual production of Unto These Hills in Cherokee, North Carolina, which he continues to musically direct. Yerry is also a highly regarded traditional musician, playing the flute and other Native-American instruments such as the rattle and the drums. He's performed Native-American music in two of Ken Burns's documentaries: The West and Lewis and Clark. Because so much of traditional Native-American culture had been repressed by the federal government, musicians had to make a concerted effort to rediscover the traditional songs.

Excerpt of the traditional "Joseph Honor Song (Chief Joseph's Theme)" performed by Dennis Yerry with the Black Elk Voices and Mattias Gohl from The West soundtrack, used courtesy of Sony Classical.

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