Joanne Shenandoah Obituary
Joanne Shenandoah-Tekaliwakwah, died at 9:41 pm at the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Arizona on November 22, 2021 in her 64th year.
Joanne was acknowledged as the Matriarch of Indigenous music, acknowledged as the most proficient and creative aboriginal composer and performer of her era. Beginning in 1989 she released 24 award winning albums ranging in genre from New Age to raw Country,
She was an innovator who took the ancestral songs of her Haudenosaunee (Six Nations Iroquois) heritage then blended the melodies and words into contemporary recordings which attracted international praise. For her stunning creativity marked by unique and powerful vocals she was given multiple awards ranging from and unprecedented 14 Native American Music Awards (NAMMYS) to the selection as the Independent Native Artists of the year, an International Native Album of the Year from the Canadian Music Awards, multiple Syracuse Area Music Awards (SAMMYS), one Grammy and another two nominations.
Joanne was also a writer with the book “Skywoman: Takes of the Iroquois” to her credit. At the time of her passing Joanne was working on her autobiography.
Her remarkable talent as a live performer took her across the planet with performances in South Korea, Australia, Africa and Europe. She opened Woodstock ’94, gave a stellar concert at Earth Day on the Mall before 400,000 people, was asked by Pete Seeger to take the main stage at his Clearwater festivals. She also performed at Madison Garden for Seeger’s 90th birthday celebration with Bruce Springsteen, Kris Kristofferson and Dave Matthews. She also sang with Odetta, John Denver, Dave Amram, R. Carlos Nakai and Rita Coolidge.
Shenandoah composed the symphony “Skywoman” which was performed by the Syracuse Symphony and featured in a PBS show from the Kemo Theatre in New Mexico with R. Carlos Nakai, Mary Youngblood and Bill Miller.
Joanne was an advocate for Native music, assisting Ellen Bello, the president of the Native American Music Words, to give a voice for hundreds of Indigenous artists. At the first NAMMYs in 1998 her calls to her friends attracted Wayne Newton, Richie Havens, Robbie Robertson, the Coolidge sisters, Floyd Red Crow Westerman and John Fusco to the stage.
Joanne was a headliner at the Foxwoods Casino with Ms. Coolidge, Randy Travis and Willie Nelson. She also did a tribute to Joannie Mitchell at Carnegie Hall. She recorded a hit in Germany with called “Nature Dance” with producer Arian Beheshti.
Joanne was always available for benefits as she supported many causes from the World Parliament of Religions to local elder care homes. She was fond of saying that the late Apache musician A. Paul Ortega told her to sing before any audience and Loretta Lynn said she should stay after her concerts until the last fan left.
Noted for her physical beauty Joanne was a gifted gymnast, a seamstress and one who could master virtually any instrument from guitar to piano, flute to cello. About the only thing she did not at least try and play were the bagpipes.
Joanne came from a long line of Native leaders. From her lineage came the Revolutionary War leader Chief Skenandoa (Shenandoah) after whom the Shenandoah Valley was named. From him came the inspiration for the American ballad “O Shenandoah”. She was kin to the Oneida advocate Laura Cornelius Kellogg and the late Leon Shenandoah, Atotaho of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. Her dad Clifford Shenandoah was a member of the Onondaga Nation Council and her mother, Maisie Shenandoah, was a clan mother of the Oneida Nation.
Joanne was given the wolf clan name “Tekaliwakwha” meaning “She Sings” during childhood, a name she carried with great pride.
In September of 1991 she married Doug George-Kanentiio, Akwesasne Mohawk journalist. They lived together for 28 years in Oneida Castle, NY with their daughter Leah Shenandoah, Ph. D. candidate at Cornell, and their grandson Ryder Oroniakenrats (Beautiful Sky).
Joanne died after a 3 month battle with liver disease caused by CDIFF in 2015 which receded but returned this past summer causing her to be referred to the Mayo Clinic for a transplant. Tragically, her illness was too far progressed resulting in massive internal bleeding, a cardiac arrest and her death.
She was predeceased by her parents Oneida Wolf Clanmother Maisie Schenandoah and Onondaga Chief Clifford Schenandoah, her beloved grandma Gertrude Schenandoah and her cherished brother Gerald Schenandoah. She leaves sister Wanda, Diane, Victoria and Danielle, all of central New York. She also departs from many nephews, nieces and hundreds of cousins across the continent.
For those who want to preserve her historic legacy she wanted her homestead in Oneida Castle, Tkanalohale the most historically significant among the Oneida people. She wished to have it become a cultural center, the place where the great Chief Skenandoa lived and died at the age of 110.
The amount of support needed is significant but she gave all she had to renovate the 1815 house.
There will be a national commemoration for Joanne at Syracuse University in December (details to be announced) with funeral services private.
Joanne’s music can be heard on YouTube and secured at CD Baby, Canyon Records and via her web site: www.joanneshenandoah.com
Yaw^’ko- The Shenandoah Family