This is one of the most interesting interviews I’ve done to date, for the Oklahoma Farm and Ranch magazine. So, I thought I’d share it. Since this interview, they have turned this into a film and are entering it at film festivals around the world.
“I started writing songs when I was nine-years-old. I was born to write songs, and I’ve known that my whole life,” Becky Hobbs stated in a recent interview.
Hobbs was born in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. When she was in high school, she formed the first all-female rock band in Oklahoma, The Four Faces of Eve. She went on to have quite a successful career in country music with many of her songs gaining popularity through her own recordings as well as other artists.
But her latest musical project combines her consummate songwriting prowess with a deeply personal and profoundly historic story.
Nancy Ward (Nanyehi) is Hobbs’ fifth great-grandmother born around 1738. Hobbs recalls stories passed down through the family.
“I was very fortunate because I always knew I was a direct descendant of Nancy Ward, Nanyehi, through all female lineage except for my great-grandfather, Richard Taylor Parks who came to Indian territory in the late 1800s. He was a horseback preacher man and hailed from East Tennessee,” Hobbs said. “Cherokee society was female driven. It was matriarchal; it was matrilineal. When a baby was born, he or she was born into the mother’s clan. The Cherokee women made the most important decisions, like when to go to war. In fact, in the 1700s, the whites dubbed the Cherokee tribes as The Petticoat Society. In Nancy Ward’s day, she represented the Cherokee at many peace negotiations. The whites were always amazed that they would let a woman speak for them.”
I found this bit of history to be most interesting. Hobbs has extensive knowledge about her beloved Cherokee tribe and is prolific in the language.
Hobbs continued, “When I was a little girl, my mom would tell me a story that intrigued me. Nancy Ward was around seventeen-years-old. Her husband, Kingfisher was battling the Creek Indians at the Battle of Taliwa in 1755. She was beside him, chewing the bullets, giving them ragged edges to make them more deadly. Kingfisher was killed, so Nanyehi took his rifle and led the Cherokee to victory.”
That act earned Nancy Ward a high status within the tribe. She was honored as War Woman, headed up the Women’s Council to determine the fate of captives and she became Nanyehi – Beloved Woman of the Cherokee.
What inspired Hobbs to honor her Fifth Great-Grandmother?
“There are eighteen songs in the musical, and I wrote or co-wrote them all,” Hobbs Said. “The interesting thing is that in 1993, I got all fired up to do a music album to pay tribute to Nancy Ward. So, I wrote a handful of these songs back then. That was the year that David Hampton in Tulsa established the Association of the Descendants of Nancy Ward. They were looking for a theme song, and I wrote “Let There Be Peace” and “Pale Moon,” that year.”
Hobbs admitted that around that time, her country music career took off like a bullet and she got so busy that she put the project aside, knowing that someday, she wanted to create something to honor her ancestor’s life.
Hobbs continues with her story, “In 2007, for the one-hundredth anniversary of Oklahoma Statehood, I was invited to participate in a celebration in Bartlesville. Well, I could not stand up there and talk about Oklahoma without talking about my Cherokee heritage. So, I talked about Nancy Ward and sang “Let There be Peace Among Us” and “Pale Moon,” and shared some of her stories. After the show, the director, Nick Sweet, came up to me and said, ‘I know who Nancy Ward was.’ So, we talked for a while, and I said, ‘You know, I’ve got some other songs besides the ones I sang tonight. Maybe we should get together and try to write a musical.’ And that’s kind of where it all started.”
Nick Sweet has been a stage director in Oklahoma and Texas for the past forty years, so he brought a level of expertise to the table that Hobbs needed to move forward with this passionate tribute.
One year later in November 2008, Hobbs decided it was time.
“I woke up and told my husband, ‘Today’s the day.’ He said, ‘Today’s the day for what? Are you going to leave me?’ I said, ‘I’m going to move forward in telling Nancy Ward’s story.’ I went to the bathroom and looked out the window, and there was a white owl perched in a tree staring at me. This was around 8:30 in the morning, and it was bright daylight. So, I knew it was a sign.”
Within six months, Hobbs wrote the musical, learning it all the hard way. She contacted Nick Sweet and asked him to direct it, and they performed Nanyehi publicly for the first time in 2009. Hobbs shares that the first performance was only herself, her husband, accomplished guitarist, Duane Sciagcua, Nick Sweet and his wife, Peggy. They each read scenes and Hobbs and husband performed songs live.
From its humble beginnings, Nanyehi has had eight major productions, been picked up by a major production company in Georgia and now has a cast of approximately twenty people including professional actors and actresses.
The songs for Nanyehi are incredibly amazing. From the first, “White Wolf on the Horizon” to the last, “Let There Be Peace,” they tell the entire story from Nancy Ward’s birth to her death, with many adventures in between, including the famed battle of Taliwa where Kingfisher died.
Although Hobbs has had many musical accomplishments in her lifetime, she openly admits she is most proud of Nanyehi. It not only took her out of her comfort zone but gave her a medium to educate so many about the Cherokee tribe as well as celebrate Nancy Ward’s fascinating life.
If you’d like more information, please visit http://www.nanyehi.com/