Historic Artist

Walker Calhoun

Cherokee singer, dancer, banjo player

Cherokee, NC (Qualla Boundary)

Walker Calhoun, respected Cherokee elder, sang the traditional sacred dance songs of the Cherokee, and played an important role in maintaining and passing on these traditions to the next generation. In his later years, he led two traditional dance groups that accompanied him to performances, The Raven Rock Dancers and the Warriors of AniKituhwa. Walker Calhoun also demonstrated how to make the Cherokee blowgun from river cane and how to make blowgun darts from wild thistle. In addition, he played old-time Southern Appalachian style banjo tunes.

Born in the Big Cove community on the Qualla Boundary, Walker Calhoun learned songs, dances, and Cherokee religious practices from his uncle, Will West Long, who had learned them from Swimmer, a Cherokee medicine man of the late nineteenth century. Following Long's death in 1947, Walker Calhoun and his relatives began teaching ceremonial dances to the younger generation. Through the years, he continued to practice and teach these traditions. In the 1980s, he formed a family group, the Raven Rock Dancers. In 1988 he brought back the stomp dance as a sacred ceremony for the Eastern Band by sharing knowledge with his counterparts among the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma.

Walker Calhoun received the Sequoyah Award in 1988 in recognition of his contributions to the Cherokee at a gathering of the Eastern and Western Bands of Cherokee. This gathering commemorated the 150th anniversary of the Trail of Tears. In 1990, he received the North Carolina Folk Heritage Award, and in 1992 he received a National Folk Heritage Award from the National Endowment for the Arts. Two recordings of his songs are available: Where Ravens Roost and Sacred Songs from Medicine Lake.

Walker Calhoun passed away on March 28, 2012 at the age of 93.

Note: "Historic Artist" designates one who is deceased but whose legacy continues to influence and inspire new generations.