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Radmilla Cody, Navajo singer from Arizona, is ready for the Grammys

February 06, 2013|By John M. Glionna
  • Radmilla Cody
Radmilla Cody (Robert Doyle / Canyon Records )

It will be a walk, maybe even a lighthearted dance, down the Grammy Awards red carpet, an appearance like no other.

Radmilla Cody, a traditional Navajo songstress from Leupp, Ariz., plans to mark her nomination for this weekend’s Grammy Awards show in Los Angeles by donning full-on traditional Navajo attire, designed by her aunt, including moccasins made by her late grandmother.

Cody received a nomination in December for her album "Shi Keyah: Songs for the People" in the category of best regional roots. She is the first Native American to be nominated since the Recording Academy announced a major overhaul of the categories in 2011.

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"The moccasins are what complete this whole exciting time for me," Cody told the Los Angeles Times during a phone conversation from her home. "For me, they’re sentimental. Ever since I was a little girl, I've worn my grandmother's moccasins. It makes the whole journey complete for me. I consider them my lucky charm."

But the timing of the nomination has been bittersweet -- the news came precisely one month after Cody’s grandmother died last year.

Cody began singing when she lived with her grandmother in Leupp -- which is part of the Navajo Nation -- after her parents could no longer care for her. The family had no running water or electricity, and the young Radmilla spent much of her time with her cousins, helping to herd the family’s animals.

The sheep and the goats were her first audience, she said.

“You learn to be creative, to just enjoy the land around you,” she told The Times. “Even just jumping over the salt bushes. I spent a lot of time using my imagination out in the vastness of the area where I lived.”

The experience also had an influence on her musical career.

“My cousins and I when we herded the sheep, we’d go sit out on a little sandstone hill and use that as makeup to put on our cheeks and eyelids,” she said. My grandmother was very religious, so I sang a lot of Christian songs.”

Later, at home with her grandmother sitting outside knitting, Cody would use a hairbrush as a make-believe microphone and sing along to the radio, following songs by Diana Ross and Whitney Houston.

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But her childhood was also filled with the music of her people.

“My grandfather was a medicine man, and he would come to visit on his horse and I would hear him chanting,” Cody told The Times. “The Heyyyyy, Hoooo. That was the connection. That’s the initial contact that led me to sing traditional music.”

Cody, who was named Miss Navajo Nation in the late 1990s, also learned to speak her native tongue. Her songs, written by her Uncle Herman, are about life, land, love, family and humor.

Following the awards ceremony, Cody said she will change out of her traditional attire into something more contemporary.

"If I win, I'm going to express much gratitude to the creator, the holy people, our sacred elements, our sacred mountains, my grandmother, my Uncle Herman, my family, and you have to thank the whole clan -- you can't just say family -- and the Navajo Nation, they rock," she told the Farmington, N.M., Daily Times. "They're going to be like, Get off the stage.'"

So who is going to accompany her to the ceremony?

“I’ll have my relatives, my entourage,” Cody told The Times. “The whole Navajo Nation wants to come.”

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