Grammy Award-winning Northern Cheyenne flute player Joseph FireCrow Jr. is remembered for his huge smile and his ability to make his flute sing.
FireCrow was born in Crow Agency, one of 10 children born to Joseph FireCrow Sr. and Elva Stands in Timber. He spent his early years on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation.
FireCrow began making and playing flutes in the summer of 1977 when he was 18 years old. His website states, “You can teach someone how to play the flute, but you can’t teach them how to make it sing.”
FireCrow learned to make it sing. He is a seven-time Native American Music Award winner, and in 2016, FireCrow received the NAMA Lifetime Achievement Award.
In a 2004 interview with the Western Heritage Center, transcribed by Thomasine Elkshoulder, FireCrow said he is inspired by “everyday living, traveling, the love of his life, his people and his personal experiences, as well as his path in life.”
As part of the interview, FireCrow told the story of how an elk brought a bone flute to the Cheyenne people. Now, they are made from the center of a tree, not the branches because they are not strong enough.
“You have to first ask the tree for permission to use it as you pay respect to yourself and to all living things around you,” FireCrow said during the interview, conducted by Jona Charette.
Kevin Kooistra, executive director of the Western Heritage Center, said FireCrow straddled the cultural world using his traditional Cheynne music and storytelling to teach others about Native culture.
“He’s just one of those incredibly gracious people who could still maintain his cultural identity while sharing it at the same time. He was able to go into a school wherever he was, and talk about being a Cheyenne,” Kooistra said.
A celebration of FireCrow’s life will be held on Saturday at 11 a.m. at the Mennonite Church in Lame Deer. All who knew FireCrow are welcome to come honor him.