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Biography

Native American music has been the focus Canyon Records since 1951. The styles of Native American music Canyon Records has produced for almost sixty years include Native American flute music, pow-wow, Native American Church music, round dance, traditional Native American music from many American Indian and Canadian Indian nations and fusions of Native American music with genres like folk, jazz, country and most recently, classical music.

The involvement of Canyon Records with Native American music began in 1951 with the release of Natay, Navajo Singer by one of the greatest singers of Native American music, Ed Lee Natay. Canyon Records was founded by Ray and Mary Boley who had opened the first recording studio in Phoenix in 1948. Ray was asked by the Phoenix Little Theater to record Ed Lee Natay for a production that needed Native American music.

The Boleys were so impressed by Natay’s singing and his mastery of Navajo music and of Native American music from other tribes that they wanted world to hear his voice. They released Natay, Navajo Singer at the 1951 Arizona State Fair.

For most people, this recording of Native American music was an oddity. For American Indians, this initial recording by Canyon Records was the first time they had seen American Indian music on a record. Interest from American Indians ran strong, and a Hopi jewelry maker in a booth next to the Boleys recommended they record Native American music from the Hopi people.

The Boleys began to spend summers traveling the country and recording all kinds of Native American music. They produced American Indian music for American Indian people and focused the Native American music output of Canyon Records on what kinds of Native American music the American (and later Canadian) Indian people wanted.

In 1972, Canyon Records opened a retail store and distribution center for not only its catalog of Native American music but Native American music recordings from other producers. Sales of American Indian music were primarily to American Indians with some interest from schools, libraries, and scholars. The direction of Native American music would change forever in the 1980s.

In 1983, Canyon Records released its first recording of Native American flute music, Changes, by R. Carlos Nakai. Sales of this Native American flute music album by Nakai grew steadily. Most importantly, for the first time in the history of Canyon Records producing Native American music, sales were to non-Native Americans. The soothing, mellow sound of Native American flute music by R. Carlos Nakai attracted listeners interested in music for meditation, relaxation and therapy. As Native American flute music by Nakai reached beyond the boundaries of American Indian music to new audiences, Canyon Records released a series of increasingly popular Native American flute music recordings by Nakai, culminated in Earth Spirit and Canyon Trilogy, the two best selling albums in the history of Native American music and the only Native American music albums to earn gold records (500,000 units sold). R. Carlos Nakai has sold more than 4 million Native American flute music albums.

R. Carlos Nakai, a restless artistic spirit, took Native American flute music into new realms outside traditional American Indian music and began performing with artists from other cultures (Wind Travelin’ Band – Japan, Keola Beamer – Hawaii, Nawang Khechog – Tibet) as well as blending Native American flute music with genres like jazz. Nakai was also interesting in finding a place for Native American music and Native American flute music in the world of classical music. Nakai would perform with more than twenty-five symphonies including the Philadelphia Orchestra, bringing Native American flute music to the concert hall. Canyon Records would release four Nakai recordings of Native American flute music in a classical music setting.

As the Native American flute music of Nakai found new, American Indian music also came into the spotlight with such large media productions as Dancing with Wolves, Geronimo (featuring Native American flute music by Nakai), Five Hundred Nations, How the West Was Lost (also featuring Native American flute music by Nakai) and New World (another featuring Native American flute music by Nakai).

The interest in Native American music grew, and not just in Native American flute music by Nakai and other flutists. Pow-wow, peyote, and traditional American Indian music were joined by productions fusing Native American music styles and culture with rock, jazz, country, gospel, reggae, and even rap and hip-hop. Canyon Records Native American music artists like Northern Cree, Black Lodge, Blackstone, Bear Creek, Pipestone, Sharon Burch, Primeaux & Mike, Kevin Yazzie, Louie Gonnie, Cheevers Toppah, Robert Tree Cody, Gabriel Ayala, Blackfire and many more great performers of American Indian music rose to prominence.

The world of Native American music continues to develop in new directions with pow-wow, peyote music, round dance, and even traditional Native American music growing in popularity with American Indians and non-Natives. Above all, the Native American flute music of Nakai continues to lead the way as the top selling albums in Native American music.

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