Column: Westerman was the music of a movement

"Every Indian's friend Floyd Westerman was set free in the early morning hours of Dec. 13, 2007. He began his journey as he wished, disconnected from tubes and regulators and breathing apparatuses. His son Richard had the honor of bringing Floyd home to Sisseton, S.D. The two were fleetingly acquainted when Richard was a young boy. Floyd's concert schedule as a musician was demanding and unending. But as men the two found their blood and history to be an everlasting bond.

Walking beside them in spirit are all American Indians: men, women, and children. Everyone who has heard Floyd's songs know he taught them to sing as no one else did. Whether performing at Wolf Trap or coming to a community pow wow, Floyd gave his musical gifts freely. Once in the turbulent 1970s he went to an "Indian bar" in Washington, D.C., to play for those who requested it. As he began to sing, the jukebox suddenly sprang to life and blared out an old country song. A burley Indian marched over and pulled the plug, taking a little of the wall with the cord. Everyone chuckled, but that night nothing could compare to Floyd, not the jukebox nor anything else the bar had to offer.

Then he played. The size of the crowd never mattered. If Indian people wanted to hear him, he came and sang. One song was about his mother: "Thirty-five miles and you'll be free. Thirty-five more miles to go. Through the wind and driving rain, I'll take you home again. Oh, Mama, thirty-five more miles to go."

No Indian eyes were dry when they heard this. Indians all have mothers to worry about. All know they have suffered in this life. Floyd sang for all Indians. He gave voice to the love of and dedication to ancestors. His was the definitive word on that connection."

Get the Story:
Laura Waterman Wittstock: The music at the heart of the Indian movement (The Minneapolis Star Tribune 12/23)

Related Stories:
Abourezk: A tribute to Floyd Red Crow Westerman (12/17)
Floyd Red Crow Westerman passes away at 71 (12/14)