A song for Sunrise – The Cherokee Morning Song

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Peter Wolf Toth's Whispering Giant, photographed by Andy Royston / FtLauderdaleSun.

Peter Wolf Toth’s Whispering Giant, photographed by Andy Royston / FtLauderdaleSun.

Over looking our Fort Lauderdale beach, his eyes trained on the morning sun, is a single tree totem, the Whispering Giant. He was carved out of a single cyress log by Hungarian-born scuptor Peter Wolf Toth. His aim is always to create a composite of all the physical characteristics of the local tribe or tribes, as well as their stories and histories. There are 74 documented giants around North America, one in each state of the union.

As the sun reaches the eyes of Toth’s haunting Whispering Giant the music that comes to mind is by former member of The Band, Robbie Robertson, and his wonderfully subtle work Music for The Native Americans. The music was originally written for a TBS TV documentary, but the pieces of music therein have taken on their own path.

One of the pieces is called The Cherokee Morning Song, and is becoming well known across the Native American community as a song with deep meaning and significance.

The three powerful singers in this video are sisters Rita Coolidge and Priscilla Coolidge, with Priscilla’s daughter Laura Satterfield, and were the original vocalists on the Music for The Native Americans. The trio would tour and record in their own right under the name Walela – a project that’s really helping the drive to educate and revive native traditions. The women are all of Cherokee ancestry, and the music’s creator, Robbie Robertson is Iroquois in his mother’s side. Weleda is Cherokee for Humming bird.

Music for The Native Americans,  a 1994 album by Robbie Robertson and the Red Road Ensemble. Buy It!

Music for the Native AmericansMusic for The Native Americans, a 1994 album by Robbie Robertson and the Red Road Ensemble. Buy It!

Here in Broward County, Florida, the Seminole nation – known as the unconquered, as they never signed a peace treaty with the United States – have traditionally lived in remote camps in the everglades areas of South Florida – and after the Seminole Wars times were especially difficult. Fort Lauderdale grew up so quickly along the coast, yet there is little along our shore that pays homage and honor to the Seminoles who are our city’s First People, who lived and worked the waters around here long before we drained the swamps and build the roads. To those of us who are mindful of our city’s history the Whispering Giant totem is both a reminder and a comforting presence. We need more like him.

In the early morning, before the beach becomes a playground, there’s a peace and tranquility to be had. Although the Cherokee lived further north, around Georgia, Tennessee, North Carolina and South Carolina, there’s a natural kinship to be had in this song. The Seminole tribe are a strong and proud community and are at last beginning to assert their cultural presence here in South Florida.

The lyrics of The Cherokee Morning Song are simple.  

I am of the Great Spirit, It is so.
I am of the Great Spirit. I am of the Great Spirit. It is so.

Wi Na De Ya Ho.


Andy Royston is a designer, artist and photoblogger based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He is one of the world’s best known mobile photographers and his work has been exhibited across the UK and Europe. He is the winner of the 2014 Mobile Photography Awards ‘Nature and Wildlife’ Award. Veteran of the London 1980s music scene, where he designed record sleeves for all kinds of rock stars and indie heroes he is a bottomless pit of musical trivia. Still looking for the next big thing he’ll be dropping into JAQUO.COM to write an irregular column on the musicians he’s most excited about.

Author: Jackie Jackson

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