A Loss to the World: A tribute to John Trudell

By Lara/Trace

We were away when I heard the news that John Trudell passed.  I had the honor of meeting him and interviewing him more than once. All I could think was:

“It’s a loss to the world….”

I will be writing more about John in an upcoming post but read these moving tributes… If you didn’t know about JT, you will now…

Here’s a recap about John from the NAMMY’s:

Our beloved Brother, Father, Uncle, Grandfather and Friend made the journey to the ancestors at 2:20 am this morning December 8, 2015.  He was in the arms of Johnny Elk, Havoni Coupe, and Kevin Marsh.  We are deeply grateful for all your prayers, love and support.  May our beloved’s words, work on behalf of our people, Mother Earth, all relations and His journey bring you peace in your life, as he loves all of you so very much.
Peace and Love Relatives.
On John Trudell’s Facebook page it states: My ride showed up. Celebrate Love.  Celebrate Life.  John Trudell
February 15, 1946 – December 8, 2015


John Trudell was a poet, recording artist, actor and speaker whose global following reflected the universal language of his words, work and message. He was presented with a Living Legend award at the Inaugural Native American Music Awards in 1998 which he called “Heart Medicine”. Throughout the years, he appeared as a special guest participant and took the Artist of the Year award in 2000 and the Song/Single of the Year for his full length recording Blue Indians with Quiltman & Jackson Browne. 

According to the Associated Press, a trustee of Trudell’s estate, Cree Miller, confirmed John Trudell died of cancer on Tuesday morning, December 8th at his home in Santa Clara County in Northern California surrounded by family and friends. He was 69 years of age.

Born February 15, 1946, in Omaha, Nebraska to a Santee Sioux father and Mexican mother, John Trudell grew up near the Santee Sioux Reservation. He became involved in Native American activism after serving in the U.S. Navy on a destroyer off the Vietnamese coast.

In 1969, Trudell joined American Indians who had occupied Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay to demand that the former federal prison should be given to Native Americans under treaty rights. John, who studied radio and broadcasting at a college in San Bernardino, California, became spokesman for the group that called itself the United Indians of All Tribes, and ran a radio broadcast from the island called Radio Free Alcatraz during the 19-month takeover.

John went on to serve as national chairman of the activist American Indian Movement from 1973 to 1979. While he was demonstrating in Washington, D.C. in 1979, his pregnant wife, Tina Manning, their three children and mother-in-law were killed in a fire at her parents’ home. After the tragedy, John was compelled to write poetry. He said it just came to him, like Tina was talking to him and he was just “following the lines.”

He published a chapbook in 1982 entitled, Living in Reality. That same year he began recording his poetry to traditional Native music by talking his friend Quiltman into backing him on drum and vocals. By 1983, he released his debut album Tribal Voice on his own Peace Company label.  His relationship with Jackson Browne led him to other supporters like Kris Kristofferson, Bonnie Raitt, Indigo Girls, John Fogerty, Willie Nelson, and Bob Dylan.

In 1986, the late legendary Kiowa guitarist, Jesse Ed Davis came up to him and said, “I can turn your poems into songs.” Together, they recorded three albums. Their first, AKA Graffiti Man, was released in 1986, and dubbed the “best album of the year” by Bob Dylan. AKA Graffiti Man served early notice of Trudell’s “singular ability to express fundamental truths” through a unique mix of poetry, Native music, blues and rock. It was followed by But This Isn’t El Salavdor and Heart Jump Bouquet, both released in 1987.

Kelly Ed Davis, wife of the late Jesse Ed Davis spoke of the incredible connection between John and Jesse in a documentary entitled, Trudell; “Immediately they were like brothers.  They shared a common understanding of what it is to be an Indian in America. The work he (Jesse) did with John was some of the best work he ever did. That connection will go on throughout eternity.”

Despite Jesse Ed Davis’ untimely death in 1988, John Trudell would go on to release a total of fourteen albums, eight with his band, Bad Dog.

John with members of Bad Dog

Fables and Other Realities was released in 1991 featuring a collaboration with Mark Shark who would remain a consistent member of Bad Dog, Trudell remade and re-released A.K.A Grafitti Man which was originally on tape, as an audio CD. In 1992, he also released Children of the Earth: Child’s Voice. His 1994 album Johnny Damas & Me was critically acclaimed as “a culmination of years of poetic work, fusing traditional sounds, values, and sensibilities with thought-provoking lyrics, and urgent rock and roll.”

In 1998, John Trudell was honored as a Living Legend at the Inaugural Native American Music Awards which he called it, heart medicine. His other musical releases included; the multiple Native American Music Award-winning, Blue Indians (1999), the all spoken word effort, JT – Descendant Now Ancestor (2001) which he performed at the 8th Annual Native American Music Awards VIP party, Bone Days which was which was produced by actress Angelina Jolie (2002),  John Trudell & Bad Dog Live à Fip, a rare live album recorded in Paris, France (2005), the double album, Madness and Moremes (2007), Crazier Than Hell (2010), and Through the Dust (2014).

Little Steven, Rita Coolidge and John

His latest album entitled, Wazi’s Dream, was just released in 2015. John called it, “a mixing of poetry and singing and music.” It was recently reported that John also collaborated with other groups including; A Tribe Called Red, and a band called The Pines.  “Bad Dog is who I really work with” he said, “but I’ve gotten some opportunities to work with different artists, because I enjoy it. Anytime I can get this stuff out there, put to music, I enjoy it.”

John has authored three books of poetry. The 1999 release of Stickman: Poems, Lyrics, Talks edited by Paola Igliori brought international attention. His most recent book, called Lines from a Mined Mind, is a collection of his album lyrics over the decades and is currently a #1 Best Seller on Amazon.com.

John’s many celebrity fans and friends included; Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne, Bob Dylan, Kris Kristofferson, who paid tribute to Trudell with the 1995 song “Johnny Lobo,” a tune Kristofferson still frequently performs live and Marcheline Bertrand, Angelina Jolie’s mother, who John partnered with as she dealt with cancer, which she succumbed to in 2007. Marcheline and Angelina also executive produced the 2005 documentary, Trudell,  with Heather Rae. Click the link for the .Trudell Documentary

Trudell also played roles in a number of features films and made for television films, including 1992’s Thunderheart  with Val Kilmer and 1998’s Smoke Signals with Adam Beach.

In 2012, Trudell became the creator of Hempstead Project Heart (Hemp Energies Alternative Resource Technologies), a national initiative that creates awareness of the many uses of hemp as way of establishing a green economy in America.

When it had first been reported that John was battling cancer, many reached out to express their love and appreciation. He responded back to them saying;

“I appreciate all of your expressions of concern and I appreciate all of your expressions of love. It has been like a fire to my heart. Thank you all for that fire.

John Trudell and his family ask for people to celebrate love and celebrate life. He asked that people pray and celebrate in their own way in their own communities.

“I don’t want to tell people how to remember me. I want people to remember me as they remember me.

So we are to remember John as we remember him.

Here are some remembrances now circulating:
Remembering John“I was very saddened to hear of his death this morning and will always cherish the few brief times I got to spend with him. He was a very down to earth, inspiring and amazing man.” 
Shyanne Chulyin Ch’ivaya Beatty
Network Manager at Native Voice 1 (NV1)
He helped spark a spoken word movement that is a continuation of Native American oral traditions…To define his voice and presence, words like empowering, authentic, intelligent, inspirational and necessary. He believed in the Spoken Word, that it had power.
Alex Jacobs
Indian Country Today Media Network 
I honor and thank this man for his words that changed my life as he embarks upon his journey home to be with our creator.
Lance A. Gumbs
Area Vice-President Northeast Region
National Congress of the American Indian
To John Trudell, my dear old friend and mentor of 30 years ago.
May your journey to the Creator be filled with beautiful memories
and insights of all those lives you touched.
With love always

Joanne & Leah Shenandoah and Doug George
We lost a great Warrior today. My prayers are with the Trudell family in these hard times.  Heart is hurting but he is at peace. Ba-ma-mi-naa until we meet again
Buggin Malone/Musician 
He was a hero to me and many others.
Jennifer Elizabeth Kreisberg
Thanking him & his family for their unselfish gift. All Nations loved him because he loved them. A warrior, Leader, Brother & Friend to all.
Beaded Wing
Today the thunderbirds took one of the greats home to watch over his people.
Rest in Paradise 

Joey Stylez/Musician
It was an honor to have had the time to visit with him and stand with the Trudell family and be there through this time. John wanted the world to know he is not dead he’s simply transformed energies and dimensions.
Thank you John!

Cody Thomas Blackbirdand from NAMA…A true leader. A fearless warrior. A master philosopher and a prophetic poet, unmatched, unequivocal and inimatible. We will miss his smile, his humble presence, and his profound greatness. He was an integral part of the Native American Music Awards since its inception and before.  Thankfully, he has left us with his extraordinary gifts of music and words that will remain in our hearts and minds forever.
Ellen Bello
President, Native American Music Awards

Joanne Shenandoah, Ellen Bello and John Trudell at the First Awards Show

My earlier post about John Trudell



Read more at http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/print/2015/12/16/honor-lines-jt-162781


  1. Thank you Trace for this caring tribute to a soaring spirit. John will be missed but his words of guidance and encouragement will ring strong for a very long time, and be there when they are needed. I discovered him very late but his influence continues to grow within. I am grateful for his life, and his gifts.


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