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18 Artists You Didn’t Know Were Native American

artists you didn't know were native american mildred bailey singing in a club in 1947
Image is in the Public Domain.

Indigenous people have too often been left out of the story of music since the beginning. The truth is that they are responsible for much of the music we hear today. Several elements from Native American music have been taken and transformed into new genres that music lovers everywhere adore.

Experts have traced influences of Native American music within music from many of the greats, including Bob Dylan. Many even agree that Native Americans influenced blues, rock and roll, and more.

Read on to discover 18 artists you didn’t know were Native American.

1. Charley Patton

charley patton sitting in a chair holding a guitar
The only extant photograph of American bluesman Charley Patton, circa 1929. Patton sits at a chair with a Stella guitar. Image is in the Public Domain.

First on our list of artists you didn’t know were Native American is Charley Patton. Patton was an American guitarist and singer known as one of the pioneers in the world of the Mississippi blues. Patton had a mixed ancestry rooted in several ethnicities, but one of his roots remained ancestry in the Cherokee tribe. 

Much of Patton’s history has been speculated, but there is certainty that the grandfather of Delta blues was confident of his Cherokee roots. 

2. Jimi Hendrix

artists you didn't know were native american famous musicians who are color blind jimi hendrix playing guitar on stage jimi hendrix songs
SAN FRANCISCO, USA – OCT 5, 2015: Jimi Hendrix at the Madame Tussauds museum in SF. It was open on June 26, 2014. Image from Shutterstock.

Legendary guitarist Jimi Hendrix is well-known for his guitar ability and singing, but he also has a unique bloodline. Hendrix was part African-American and part Irish, but he also holds roots in the Cherokee tribe from his grandmother, making him one of the artists you didn’t know were Native American.

Although Hendrix isn’t known for his Native American heritage, his legacy is celebrated today as in the contribution of his belongings to the National Museum of the American Indian.

Related: 15 Best Jimi Hendrix Songs

3. Link Wray

link wray wearing sunglasses and holding a guitar
Image from Shutterstock.

Link Wray, an American guitarist, songwriter, and vocalist, grew up as part of the Shawnee Native American tribe. He is known for creating the wordless song “Rumble,” which was banned in several United States markets for fear that the song would bring on juvenile delinquency. Like Lucy from Charlie Brown, you wouldn’t want to be accused of taking part in a rumble.

To this day, “Rumble” remains the only instrumental tune that was banned from United States radio.

4. Jesse Ed Davis

a guitar player sitting in front of a crowd and playing guitar
(No licensable photos available) Image from Shutterstock.

Native American guitarist Jesse Ed Davis is one of the best at his craft, establishing himself as a session artist with heritage in the Kiowa, Comanche, Muscogee, and Seminole tribes.

Davis occasionally played with legends like Eric Clapton and most members the Beatles, influencing the Rolling StonesMick Jagger and John Lennon before his untimely heroin overdose and death in 1988.

Related: 34 Best Rolling Stones Songs

5. Buffy Sainte-Marie

buffy sainte marie performing in a concert
Image from Shutterstock.

Buffy Sainte-Marie isn’t just one of the artists you didn’t know were Native American, she’s also a vocal activist for the issues indigenous peoples face in the United States and Canada. Sainte-Marie herself reports coming from the Cree nation, though her biological mother passed away when she was very young.

Saint-Marie’s style has evolved and changed over the years as she paves the way for Indigenous understanding.

6. Randy Castillo 

silhouette of a drummer
Image from Shutterstock.

Randy Castillo, the drummer for Ozzy Osbourne and Motley Crue, is a well-known face in the professional drumming world and one of the most influential heavy metal drummers to have ever played. The youngest of five children, Castillo was born to a Spanish/French Native American mother and a Native American/Hispanic father.

Both of his Native American heritages come from the Apache nation.

7. Stevie Salas 

a musician playing guitar on stage
(No licenseable photo available) Image from Shutterstock.

Guitarist and author Stevie Salas originates from the Mescalero Apache tribe making him one of the artists you didn’t know were Native American. He’s played guitar for more than 70 albums, including stepping up to the plate for artists like Rod Stewart, Mick Jagger, and Justin Timberlake

For a time, Salas even served as the advisor of contemporary music at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian.

8. Pete Lafarge

a male singer silhouette on stage singing
(No licensable photos available) Image from Shutterstock.

Next on our list of artists you didn’t know were Native American is 50s artist Pete LaFarge, who claimed several times to have descended from the Nargaset Indian Tribe, though there isn’t an official fact-check on this claim. He often hung out with the likes of Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, and Ramblin’ Jack Elliot. 

Related: How Did Johnny Cash Die?

9. Robert Trujillo

robert trujillo on stage playing guitar with metallica
Image from Shutterstock.

Robert Trujillo is the bassist for Metallica and has been since 2003, offering astounding tonal depth to their creations. Trujillo is of Native American and Mexican descent, stemming from and very proud of the Taos Pueblo tribe.

Trujillo was part of many smaller bands before he made his big break in 2003 when the band decided to invite him to become an official, permanent member of the group.

10. Robbie Robertson 

image of robbie robertson on stage in front of a microphone
Image from Shutterstock

Canadian musician Robbie Robertson played guitar for Bob Dylan for most of his career, and he is another one of the artists you didn’t know were Native American. He’s descended from the Cayuga and Mohawk tribes, living and growing up on the Six Nations Reserve in the southwest area of Toronto. 

For much of his life, Robertson wasn’t recognized for his heritage but continued to make it part of his identity as he progressed in his career.

11. Redbone

ways to score cheap concert tickets a band performing on stage band silhouette
Image from Shutterstock.

Redbone is an American rock band famous for the tune “Come And Get Your Love,” pulled together through their Native American and Mexican heritage. The members come from backgrounds in the Cherokee, Apache, Shoshone, and Yaqui tribes, just to name a few,

When Redbone came onstage, they would mic the stage floor to sound like a herd of buffalo to honor their heritage. A worth addition to our artists you didn’t know were Native American list.

12. Jaime Luis Gomez

jaime luis gomez or taboo on stage performing
Image from Shutterstock.

Jaime Luis Gomez, also known as Taboo, is a rapper who is part of the iconic Black Eyes Peas. The Shoshone and Mexican-descended talent is most famous for selling 60 million records around the world with his group, including top hits like the song “Let’s Get It Started.”

13. Mildred Bailey

artists you didn't knoe were native american mildred bailey singing in a club in 1947
Image is in the Public Domain.

Mildred Bailey, a descendant of the Coeur d’Alene tribe in the Pacific Northwest, was the first female big band singer. Frank Sinatra claimed she imitated him, allowing her to become one of the most successful artists of her day.

Even greater is that Tony Bennett reported being influenced by Mildred, only listening to her when he was younger and taking her work as something to look into in his performance life. 

Related: Frank Sinatra’s Net Worth

14. Lila Downs

lila downs on stage singing
Image from Shutterstock.

Lila Downs is a modern Native American artist with a thick, intricate heritage. The talent attributes most of her ancestry to Mexico, where her mother descends from the Mixtec group down in North America.

Downs tends to create her music, calling upon various traditions from her cultural roots for inspiration as she brings things to life in various genres, from traditional to beyond. 

15. Brooke Simpson

a female singer on stage singing with her head tilted back
(No licensable photo available) Image from Shutterstock

Brooke Simpson is a singer and actress who finished third in the thirteenth season of The Voice on a team led by Miley Cyrus. She is from an area in North Carolina known as Hollister, home to the Haliwa-Saponi tribe.

Simpson reported growing up on tribal grounds, surrounded by 4,000 people, including her and her family, in her younger years, earning her a place on our artists you didn’t know were Native American list.

16. Jim Boyd

a silhouette of a band
(No licensable photos available) Image from Shutterstock.

Jim Boyd started his career as a cover artist, eventually making his way forward to create bands like The Jim Boyd Band. Boyd played on the Colville Indian Reservation and appeared in groups like Greywolf and Winterhawk over the years. He states that he was once part of the Arrow Lakes tribe.

17. Chuck Billy

chuck billy on stage performing and pointing at the crowd
Image from Shutterstock.

Chuck Billy is an American singer who is most well-known for his time as the head of the band Testament. He was born to a Mexican mother and a Native American father who originated from the Pomo Native Americans. 

18. Joanne Shenandoah

a female singer performing on stage
(No licensable photos available) Image from Shutterstock.

Last but not least on our list of artists you didn’t know were Native American, Joanne Shenandoah is another prominent artist with a Native American background. Shenandoah reports growing up in the Oneida Indian Nation and how different it was back then.


Written by Hope Davis

Long-time music lover Hope became a full-time writer in 2020 after being laid off from her regular job due to COVID-19. She now spends her time traveling the world to see her favorite bands while writing about them!


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