Cody says her singing career started in a sheep corral behind her
grandmother's home on the Navajo reservation near Flagstaff, Ariz.
first audience was the sheep. Her inspiration came from what she
saw and heard around her.
you're way out in the middle of nowhere, and you're herding sheep,
and you're spending time jumping over the salt bushes and sitting
around listening to all the beautiful sounds of nature, something's
going to make you open your mouth," Cody says.
voice is bicultural. Her mother was Navajo, her father African-American.
Now, she sings folk songs in the language of her Native American
ancestors with a twist.
mom was just a teenager when Radmilla was born, so she was raised
by her Navajo grandmother. There was no electricity or running water,
and young Radmilla Cody lived a very traditional life, learning
to herd sheep, spin wool for clothing and cook meals using only
what they grew or raised.
traditional Navajo foundation was augmented by one additional cultural
factor: Cody's grandmother was Christian.
always remember one particular time, the church had this choir from
I don't recall where," Cody says. "But man, they sounded
so good. And I remember thinking in my mind, 'That's what I want
to do, that's what I want to sound like!' "
two cultures come together on her albums. There are traditional
songs as well as songs written by her uncle, Herman Cody.
from his home near the center of the 26,000-square-mile Navajo reservation,
Herman Cody says the songs he writes for his niece are secular interpretations
of sacred ceremonial songs. From the beginning he had one goal.
going to make these albums just as grandpa would walk behind the
hogan, sit down, start making a moccasin," Herman Cody says.
"And then, he just goes at it."
singing usually comes from a man, and it's usually a monotone, with
almost no flourishes. Radmilla projects more and uses techniques
like bending notes: common among blues, jazz and pop singers.
Cody says her voice brings together the traditional and the contemporary.
tends to blend both of them in there to where she can sing a traditional
song and give it a soulful approach," he says. "That's
what makes it sound so unique."
adds what he calls "Navajo soul" to Navajo spirituality.
think the soul comes in from the black side," Radmilla says,
laughing, "and with the Navajo [side], just the beauty and
the language in itself."
The Spirit Alive
Cody's connection to singing deepened during the 18 months spent
in prison for not reporting a boyfriend's drug dealing.
music did not desert me," she says. "It remained there
in my life. And I think that in a lot of ways it was because the
spirit in those songs knew that I needed I needed them."
says she was afraid to report her boyfriend because he hit her.
Today, she lends her voice to help other victims of domestic abuse
and to help keep the Navajo language alive.
has her grandmother to thank for that connection to the language.
Dorothy Cody is 95 years old now. She still lives in the same house
where she raised Radmilla.
says she is proud her granddaughter is taking the Navajo language
well beyond the reservation. Radmilla translated for her.
said it's good," Radmilla says. "She said it's good, you
being able to sing in the Navajo language, it's a good thing. And
then, of course, you being able to sing in English and speak English
is good, too."
Radmilla Cody it comes down to two languages, two cultures and one