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Singer Martha Redbone to appear Friday in Peterborough

  • Singer Martha Redbone will perform her settings of poems by William Blake in a performance in Peterborough on Friday.
  • Singer Martha Redbone will perform her settings of poems by William Blake in a performance in Peterborough on Friday.

A rising star on the American roots music scene, singer Martha Redbone doesn’t like her music to be pigeonholed. A woman of Cherokee, Choctaw, Shawnee and African-American descent, she won accolades for her 2007 album “Skintalk,” which incorporated elements of Native American traditions and also garnered an Independent Music Awards honor for Best R&B Album. She was mentored by Walter “Junie” Morrison, one of the songwriters of the premier funk group Parliament/Funkadelic. She has sung with Bonnie Raitt, Rita Coolidge and Pete Seeger. But her latest project is a record called “The Garden of Love,” in which Redbone has set to music the works of the great Romantic Age poet William Blake.

Redbone will perform music from “The Garden of Love” on Friday in the Monadnock Center for History and Culture’s Bass Hall. She’ll be accompanied by her husband and fellow songwriter, Aaron Whitby, and guitarist Alan “AB” Burroughs.

In a phone interview last week, Redbone said the Blake project came about after she and Whitby took a break from performing when they had a son in 2006.

“Aaron and I are completely independent, which is why we haven’t been heard of,” Redbone said. “We’d started in the rhythm and blues style and we were still gigging, but also getting used to being parents. I wanted to take a risk and do something in a different style. Being independent, that’s what you can do.”

She said she was inspired by Blake’s poetry, which spoke to her in language that evoked the hills and hollows of Black Mountain, Ky., — the Appalachian coal country where she grew up.

“I wanted to do the music of my mother’s childhood, my grandmother’s childhood,” Redbone said. “We’d lost a lot of the elders of our family. My three albums all have Native American influences and as you get older, you go back to the music that inspired you as a kid. The Blake project is really the same thing. It’s going right back home.”

Redbone said she was surrounded by music from an early age. Her African-American father sang in church and her Native American mother, who raised her after her parents split up, was very musical.

Having a Native American mother but looking African-American gave her a unique perspective on both sides of her family heritage, Redbone said.

“As a kid, we’d been told that Indians don’t exist any more. We were treated like we were invisible. I fell like its a civic duty, if you want to put it that way, to let people know we are still here. I don’t want to ram it into people’s heads, but I want to include this important aspect of my heritage. It’s very much a part of who I am.”

Another key influence was the funk music of Morrison, George Clinton and the musicians of Parliament/Funkadelic, all of whom she described as wonderful mentors.

“They look crazy, but they were far from crazy,” she said. “They were classically trained, pretty brilliant musicians. We did a lot of studio and demo stuff for them.”

Redbone said she’s always been an admirer of great songwriting.

“I’ve always loved country music, bluegrass music, rhythm and blues. I consider it all American roots music,” she said. “I’ve always had a respect for a really strong melody. That’s the greatest inspiration for me.”

The show in Peterborough came about as Redbone and Whitbey were planning a tour after making the Blake album.

“We started looking for places to play and thought maybe historical societies would be interested. It was an innocent as that, really. I did some research on folk venues, and here we are.”

Redbone said Friday’s show will feature a full range of her music.

“We’ll do most of the songs from the Blake album,” she said. “We’ll throw in some fun stuff too, some little surprises.”

She’ll be singing and playing a variety of percussion instruments.

Whitby will play piano, autoharp and occasionally a bulbul terang, which Redbone said is a stringed instrument from India or China that sounds somewhat like a mandolin.

Burroughs will be on guitar.

“Alan is from Chicago, where he was my guitarist in a rhythm and blues project,” Redbone said. “His great uncle was Fletcher Henderson and he played with Miles Davis. We both have the same musical vocabulary.”

The concert is part of the Music in Bass Hall series at the Monadnock Center for History and Culture, formerly the Peterborough Historical Society. It starts at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15 ($12 for seniors, students and Peterborough Historical Society members). For more information, see MonadnockCenter.org or call 924-3235.

Dave Anderson can be reached at 924-7172, ext. 233 or danderson@ledgertranscript.com. He’s on Twitter at @DaveAndersonMLT.

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