For the Black Lodge Singers, performing at pow wows is a 32-year family tradition. The multi-talented northern style drum group has been nominated for seven Grammys and won several Native American Music Awards for their pow wow music.
Their individual talents—that’s 10 boys in a family of 12, with the eldest now at 47 and the youngest at 32—are deeply rooted. Led by their father Kenny Scabby Robe, Blackfeet, 68, and mother Louise, Yakama, 69, the family’s contribution to Native American music is phenomenal.
The Black Lodge Singers have a total of 31 recordings so far. There is probably another one coming by the end of the year. And count this, the Scabby Robe’s have 51 grandchildren and only 10 are currently involved in the family enterprise.
The fourth youngest son, Algin, 39, is the spokesman for the family. He is one of the main composers, though he says they all compose and work together on their songs. ICTMN caught up with him before their busy pow wow performance calendar really kicks in. He talks about growing up with his siblings and their contributions to the pow wow circuit.
What keeps the Black Lodge Singers busy these days?
Just preparing for pow wows. During summertime, it’s pow wow and during winter, it’s round dance. Starting from the end of June to the second week of October, we have 16 events in the U.S. and Canada. I am thinking about going to Chile myself. I’ve been asked to sing.
How do you like to travel and perform with your family?
We are always together. Actually, it is the most awesome experience to do what we love to do as a family. We love to travel. We like to sightsee. We are really close with one another. One of the things that kept us together is how close we are.
How do you think your family group has evolved over the years?
We have evolved successfully. When we first started singing in pow wows we sounded so horrible. Nobody danced. We were hurt. My older brothers were hurt so we practiced every day. It’s a funny story how we started. My older brother was constantly asking for money from our father when we went to pow wows. My father said, ‘we came here to make money. You either sing or dance.’ We decided to be singers. That is how we became Black Lodge Singers.
At what stage are you now in your professional career?
We are still who people say we are. We are still one of the top groups in Indian country. After being here for 30 plus years and for people to still say that to us, we feel accomplished. Success is there but we have not reached our goal yet.
What is your goal?
My goal for myself had been partially to get the children back into the culture. For a long time, the Black Lodge Singers had no children.
What was it like growing up among a big brood?
When we were younger, we used to fight every now and then. We weren’t the Brady bunch. There were times when we fought. That is what brothers do.
What is it you do outside of the pow wow?
I coach basketball. My brothers—we are all into athletics—coach track and field, football and baseball. That’s another gift we have—sports.
What do you think is the contribution of Black Lodge Singers to the pow wow circuit?
We will be remembered for our intertribal songs. There are a lot of drum singers but our music is unique. We don’t sound like any other group; we have our own style. We were one of the first groups to come out with word song, which is now considered contemporary.
Aside from singing, you now have your own pow wow?
We had just put on a pow wow last Memorial Day weekend. It’s the Weasel Tail Pow Wow—from my mom’s maiden name. We put on this pow wow in White Swan [Washington] to give back to the people. We were able to come up with $39,000 in seven months. Next year, we are looking at $65,000 prize money.
What’s next for Black Lodge Singers?
We are doing another pow wow live recording. We will do it this summer. The last one we did was good. We are also nosing around in search of an album next year.
For fun, the Black Lodge Singers do a version of the SpongeBob SquarePants theme song! (Hear more songs by the drum)