Singer-songwriter Becky Hobbs pens musical "Nanyehi - Beloved Woman of the Cherokee," based on an ancestor's life
From Tuesday’s Life section of The Oklahoman.
Songwriter pens musical tribute to beloved Cherokee ancestor
Grammy-nominated Oklahoma-born songwriter Becky Hobbs penned the musical “Nanyehi — Beloved Woman of the Cherokee” based on the life of her renowned ancestor.
TULSA — Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Becky Hobbs dedicates her latest album to her parents, who always encouraged her to make music; her grandmother, who signed the Dawes Roll at age 17; and “all of our Native American brothers and sisters.”
But “Nanyehi — Beloved Woman of the Cherokee” is really for her fifth-great-grandmother, Nancy Ward, who was renowned as both a war hero and peacemaker, and now, thanks to her descendent, is the subject of a musical.
“Growing up in Bartlesville … my mom always said, ‘Becca, you’re a direct descendent of Nancy Ward, beloved woman of the Cherokee, and we had all of our family history documented,” said Hobbs, whose songs have been recorded by Alabama, Emmylou Harris, Glen Campbell and more, in a recent phone interview from her adopted hometown of Nashville, Tenn.
“When I look back, even then (as a girl) I was writing all kinds of little songs of peace and love and ‘let’s all get along and stop fighting,’ and I always knew in my heart that one day I would write what I thought would be a tribute album to Nancy Ward.”
Instead of just a tribute album, “Nanyehi — Beloved Woman of the Cherokee” is the soundtrack of a new musical Hobbs has co-written with Nick Sweet, an actor, theater director and writer who has penned several Oklahoma historical dramas. Hobbs and Sweet are teaming with the Tulsa Theatre Project to workshop the musical in the hopes of taking it from page to performance and spreading the legacy of her “beloved” ancestor.
“She changed American history. She played a very important part in making peace between the Cherokee and the white settlers,” Hobbs said. “There’s a lot of people, especially in the Oklahoma area, that may not have been alive today if Nancy Ward had not saved the life of their ancestor, be it Cherokee or white. … When she warned (Fort) Watauga about an upcoming raid by the Cherokee, it was to save lives of both the Cherokees and the whites.”
Nancy Ward’s birth name was Nanyehi, which means “she who walks among the spirit people,” and she was born around 1738 in Chota, capital of the Cherokee Nation, now part of eastern Tennessee.
She used her clout to promote peace between the Cherokee and white settlers as well as other tribes. After all, her second husband, Bryant Ward, was of Irish descent; she took the name Nancy Ward after marrying him.
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