Over 2 1/2 years in the works, Johnny Kee's first commercial CD
was finally released in October, 2018. Historically, the first book published in the
Cherokee syllabary (written language) was the Cherokee Hymn Book, published in
1829. This book was available for nearly a decade when the U.S. Army forced the Cherokee people
out of their homes and onto the Trail of Tears in 1838-1839. By the time of the
"removal", many Cherokee had converted to Christianity. I have heard
that songs from the Hymn Book, especially Hymn 87 to the tune of Amazing Grace,
were heard many times along the trail. This CD represents Johnny Kee's
interpretations of a dozen of the songs from the Hymn Book.
CD, Echoes From the Trail, was honored with a Native American
Music Award (NAMA) nomination!
Echoes From the Trail
The "removal" of the Cherokee people from their homelands in
the east to Indian Territory nearly a thousand miles away in 1838-1839
fulfilled a promise to the people of Georgia by President Jackson, and is part of the reason
that President Jefferson made the Louisiana Purchase from France - to have
lands west of the Mississippi River to relocate Native peoples of the 5
"civilized tribes" (the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Muskogee
(Creek), and Seminoles) to. The "removal" was especially brutal
for the Cherokee, with an estimated 4000, 1/4 of the Cherokee people
relocated, dieing either in the stockades or along the trail of disease,
exposure, or starvation, giving this historic tragedy the name we know it
by, the Trail of Tears.
By the time of the "removal", many of the Cherokee had
converted to Christianity, as the first European visitors to Cherokee
country were traders and missionaries. The first book published in the
Cherokee syllabary (written language characters) was the Cherokee Hymn
Book, published in 1829. It is said that the hymns from the Hymn Book, and
especially Amazing Grace, were heard many times along the trail, often at
scenes like the one depicted in Joyce Bugaiski's beautiful cover art.
Learn more about the Cherokee Hymn Book and the Trail of
|I was fortunate to get my start in
playing guitar and singing during the so-called folk music revival of the
late '50s into the '60s. My inclination from the beginning was to do folk songs, including hymns, spirituals, and old time gospel music. Thanks
to a heritage project in junior high school, I learned of my family
history going back to John Kee, who traveled the "northern
route" of the Trail of Tears with his family. But the Kees
"deserted" the trail in southwestern Missouri when his mother
became deathly ill. My mother's side of the family (her mother was John
Kee's granddaughter) settled in and around Springfield, where
both my mother and I were born. So this CD has been a personal journey into my family's
through my music. Today I sing some of these same hymns and gospel songs
(in English of course) in our church Praise Band.
One thing to recognize as you go on is that the songs in the
Hymn Book, although each is identified as being played and sung to the
tune of an old English hymn or
gospel song, are not translations of the English lyrics for those songs.
They are totally independent Cherokee poems that can be sung to the
identified western tune. In the track list below, you find the hymn number
from the Hymn Book along with the English tune first documented as
being associated with
that hymn in the 2014 version of the Hymn Book. These arrangements are my
personal interpretations of these Cherokee versions that include the
vocals, along with my guitars, banjo, autoharp, hand drums, rattle, and, especially,
Native American flutes.
Track title & description
||Hymn 128 (tune: In the Sweet By and
By) In the Cherokee, this is a hymn of baptism, beginning with
the story of Jesus being baptized in the River Jordan. The final verse
asks for beautiful songs to play for Jesus.
||Hymn 134 (tune: Old Rugged Cross)
The Cherokee lyrics are a call for soldiers of the cross to arise, along
the lines of the Battle Hymn of the Republic in English.
||Hymn 142 (tune: Leaning On the
Everlasting Arms) This is a temperance song in Cherokee, with
each verse and chorus ending with a variation on "Don't touch
||Hymn 38 (tune: Nearer My God to Thee)
This Cherokee hymn calls us to "come humble sinner" and trust in
the one who lives above.
||Hymn 87 (tune: Just a Closer Walk
With Thee) This is my personal interpretation of Hymn 87 and not a
tune found in the Hymn Book. Hymn 87 is best known sung to the tune of Amazing
Grace (track 11 on this CD).
||Hymn 94 (tune: My Faith Looks Up to
Thee) The Cherokee in this hymn praises the trinity.
||Hymn 93 (tune: Rock of Ages)
The Cherokee lyrics are 18 verses long, and tells a detailed story of the crucifixion
and resurrection. I have chosen 6 verses that capture the key points of
||Hymn 39 (tune: I'll Fly Away)
The Cherokee tells of a call for us sinners to come to Jesus. [This
song is licensed for use on this CD.]
||Hymn 17 (tune: What a Friend We Have
in Jesus) The Cherokee lyric raises praise and love to
Jehovah (yi-ho-wa in Cherokee, the first words of the first verse).
||Hymn 35 (tune: Silent Night)
It may be difficult to listen to this and not think of the Christmas
carol, but the Cherokee lyrics have nothing to do with that holiday. The
Cherokee lyrics tell of finding peace in Jesus Christ. The original has 7
verses, from which I chose 2.
||Hymn 87 (tune: Amazing Grace)
I was told at a Cherokee spirituality seminar many years ago in Cherokee,
NC that this song is a kind of unofficial Cherokee national anthem. It is
almost universally known among the Cherokee, but it is not a translation of the
English Amazing Grace. It's main theme is Christ's second coming.
||Hymn 9 (tune: Softly and Tenderly)
The Cherokee lyrics for this song are based on Psalm 146, honoring and
praising God for His help.
I wish to acknowledge the help I've received from some very
talented people. First, there have been Annette Abbondanza (Painted
Raven) and Ken Holt (Who I Am) who
have critiqued and offered suggestions for all of the tracks as I completed
initial mixes. Their fine ear and experience in producing and recording CDs of
their own have been invaluable. I really appreciate Randy
McGinnis, Native American Music Association 2017 Flutist of the Year, for
translating "Echoes From the Trail" into Cherokee for the CD cover.
Finally, my special gratitude to Joyce Bugaiski, a very talented artist and dear
friend, for the beautiful art that graces the jacket of this CD. Her scenes set
the mood for the music on the CD. Finally, I appreciate my wife, Claire, for her
support and understanding when I get wrapped up in projects like this.
The Cherokee Hymn Book
In 1821 a Cherokee they called Sequoyah presented a proposal to
the tribal council for a way to write the Cherokee language. He had worked on
this idea alone for a decade, and ended up using symbols to represent syllables
rather than letters as in English and other European languages. His invention is
therefore called the Cherokee syllabary, and in 1821 the tribal council accepted
The people quickly adopted the new syllabary and it wasn't long
before the literacy rate among the Cherokee in their new writing system was
higher than that in Georgia in general. In 1825 the Cherokee secured a printing
press with the new syllabary typeset, and in 1828 began publishing a bi-lingual
Cherokee/English newspaper called the Cherokee Phoenix. In 1829 the first
book in the syllabary was published, the Cherokee Hymn Book.
The first Hymn Book, and versions through the 2014
republication, contained only the lyrics in the syllabary, with no indication of
a tune. The 2014 version added the name of an English hymn or gospel song as a
tune to go with the lyrics. The 2014 version also added the phonetic
pronunciation of the Cherokee and an English translation. Again, the hymn's
Cherokee lyrics are not a translation of the English lyrics of the identified song,
but a new Cherokee lyric with a meaning unrelated to the English. For example,
Hymn 35 is sung to the tune of Silent Night, but is not a Christmas song.
Pre-2014 Cherokee Hymn Book in Cherokee syllabary
The Cherokee Hymn Book may be purchased from the Museum
of the Cherokee Indian museum store in Cherokee, NC (www.cherokeemuseum.org).
The Trail of Tears
In 1835, a treaty was signed between former tribal leaders with
no authority to speak for the Cherokee people and the U.S. Government that
called for the "removal" of all Cherokee in the east within 2 years.
The treaty was ratified by the U.S. Senate (by just 1 vote) in 1836. When the
people did not voluntarily leave their lands under what they considered an
illegal treaty, in 1838 the U.S. Army rounded up the people and forced them into
hastily constructed stockades, from which they were later forced to walk to new
lands in Indian Territory (today's eastern Oklahoma), mostly during the brutal
winter of 1838-1839. In the stockades and along their journey, approximately
4000, or 1/4 of the 16,000 people, died, giving the "removal" the name
we know it by today, the "Trail of Tears."
By the time of the "removal", many of the Cherokee had
converted to Christianity. Missionaries moved among the people while they were
in the stockades, converting others, and accompanied them on the trail. Deaths, primarily among the
very young and the very old, were daily occurrences. Principal Chief John Ross's
own wife died when she gave up her blanket to a child. It is said that the hymns
in the Hymn Book, and especially Hymn 87 to the tune of Amazing Grace, were
heard many times along the trail. The group did not stop for the hasty burials along
the side of the road, so the mourners had to catch up after their brief grieving
at the graveside, the image in Joyce Bugaiski's beautiful cover art for this CD.
The Trail of Tears National Historic Trail was established by an act of Congress in 1987. Itís dedicated to identifying and
preserving sites associated with the removal of Native Americans from the
southeastern United States. The Trail of Tears Association (TOTA) was created to
support the Historic Trail. There are nine TOTA chapters representing the nine states that the Cherokee and other tribes
traveled through on their way to Indian Territory.
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