Unit 2: Southeastern Woodlands Native American Music with Martha

Melody will take us on a journey from Darien, Georgia to Brooklyn, New York to meet our next singer, Martha. Use SG17, SG18, and SG19 to meet Martha and prepare your students to learn about Southeastern Woodlands Native American Music.

Genre Overview

Martha Redbone’s Native American roots lie in the Southeastern region of the US, home to the Cherokee, Choctaw, and Shawnee nations. The traditional music of these nations centers upon songs accompanying dances that continue to be performed at powwows and other social gatherings. The songs feature short sections of lyrics, often sung in call and response, accompanied by drums, rattles, whistles, pipes, and flutes. All of these instruments have spiritual significance and are made from natural elements: For example, gourds become rattles, and logs become water drums. Starting in the 1700s, Native American music was altered by the arrival of British traders who introduced the fiddle, and by African influences shared throughout the southern US.

Martha Redbone has continued to teach traditional Southeastern nations’ music throughout most of her career, as an expression of her deep commitment to preserving and sharing her Native American cultural heritage. At the same time, she has developed her own singular style of American Roots music that is a direct reflection of her own roots: her Cherokee-Choctaw-Shawnee mother and African American father; the Appalachian hills of Harlan County, Kentucky where she spent her early childhood; and the resilient eclecticism of her teenage years in Brooklyn. Combining the vocal style of her gospel-singing father with the spirit of her mother’s Native American culture, she proudly broadens the boundaries of Native Americana.

Meet Martha Redbone

My name is Martha! I was born in New York City to parents from diverse backgrounds: My mother was Native American and my father was African American. I spent a lot of my childhood with my Cherokee/Shawnee grandmother and Choctaw grandfather in Black Mountain, Kentucky, a small coal-mining town in the hills of Appalachia. Although we were just like any other American family, we also had our own traditional ways, prayers, and songs. I moved back to Brooklyn when I was small, but we went back to Kentucky often for ceremonies. Today I live in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. I am so excited to play, sing, and share the music from my homeland with you! 

Lesson 1: Learning “Social Dances”

Students will learn three social dances from Southeastern nations, and will perform the different roles for each dance.
Go to Lesson 1: Learning “Social Dances” →

Lesson 2: Learning “40 Wheels”

Students will learn to sing the original song “40 Wheels,” explore the musical elements in the song, and learn how musical elements can help tell a story in a song.
Go to Lesson 2: Learning “40 Wheels” →

Learn More!


Southeastern Woodlands Native American Music Playlist Coming Soon!


Additional Teaching Resources:

Unit 2: PDF Downloads

SG17 – Let’s Explore Southeastern Woodlands Native American Music! ↓ Download File
SG18 – Meet Martha! ↓ Download File
SG19 – We asked Martha… ↓ Download File
SG20 – Create Your Own Rattle ↓ Download File
SG21 – My Own Ribbon Skirt ↓ Download File

Unit 2: Audio Tracks

Track 08 – Social Dances

Track 09 – Choctaw Drum Dance

Track 10 – Choctaw Drum Dance (Pronunciation)

Track 11 – Cherokee Bear Dance

Track 12 – Cherokee Bear Dance (Pronunciation)

Track 13 – Cherokee Friendship Dance

Track 14 – Cherokee Friendship Dance (Pronunciation)

Track 15 – 40 Wheels

Track 16 – 40 Wheels (Pronunciation)

Track 18 – “Pata Pata” pronunciation

Lesson 1: Learning “Social Dances” →