When Sonny Ledford teaches others about Cherokee culture, he says, “I tell about how I grew up, from a child to a man.” As a small child growing up in Birdtown, Ledford spoke Cherokee, and he only began to learn English when it became a practical necessity for enrolling in kindergarten. His mother, a member of the Bird Clan, and his father, a member of the Long Hair Clan, both spoke Cherokee as their first language, and were deeply versed in the tribe’s history and traditions of artistry. Geneva Teesatuskie Ledford, his mother, was from the Snowbird Community. He remembers times when she wrapped loads of baskets that she had made in a large sheet-which she carried on her back with the top of the sheet tied around her shoulders and the bottom tied to her waist, the same way that she carried her children when she gardened-and walked all the way to Cherokee to sell her work.
His mother taught him to do the beadwork that he continues today. Noah Ledford, Sr., his father, taught him about woodcarving, and told him many of the traditions about his people that he now shares in his lectures, and in his travels teaching. His father told him, “Use a stern voice when talking about your people.” Following that advice, Ledford presents Cherokee history in a way that is both passionate and authoritative.
Sonny Ledford is one of the seven original members of the Warriors of Ani Kituwah, a dancing group that performs and teaches traditional Cherokee dance. He learned the old songs and dances from family members and other elders of his people, especially his mentor Walker Calhoun. Ledford has been employed by the Cherokee Historical Association for over twenty years, as was his mother, who dedicated twenty-two years to the Association. He lectures and demonstrates at the Oconaluftee Indian Village. Though he cautions that he is no longer fluent in the language, as he was when he was a child, Ledford can assist with Cherokee language instruction.
The list of arts that he practices and can demonstrate includes-but is not limited to-stone carving, woodcarving, flint knapping, beadwork and the making of contemporary powwow regalia, and the making of bows and arrows, masks, dough bowls, pipes, spears, knives, blowguns, darts, drums, and gourd and turtle shell rattles.
Sonny Ledford is available to demonstrate many crafts, and to speak about the history and heritage of the Cherokee people.