This artist began performing various traditional music of the Comanche and other Plains Indian tribes in the late '60s, establishing a reputation as one of the finest players of the Native American flute. He was also a visual artist whose paintings of Indian life, past and present, were exhibited regularly in American galleries. In the late '80s, he was featured on several national television programs, including Good Morning America. Music critics tend to be divided on much Native American flute music, as the genre has established uncomfortable connections with tacky souvenier shops. But the consensus among art critics concerning Doc Tate as an artist is much more solid, and he has been praised as one of the greatest Native American artists of his generation.
He was an Apache Indian, born Joyce Nevaquaya. Both this name and his nickname are in tribute to one of his family's closest friends, Dr. C.W. Joyce. That "Doc" was the name that stuck turned out to be a real plus, as in the Native American cultures, as in many other societies, the designation of doctor leads to special status. In this case, Doc was allowed the special privilege of attending peyote meetings with his father. He was precocious in how familiar he became with these rituals, ceremonies, and other lore of his people, all of which inspired him to begin painting as a child. His parents died within eight months of each other when Doc Tate was only 13. He lived with his grandparents as a teenager, soaking up the stories of the tribal elders. His oldest brother brought home crayons and a tablet and encouraged his kid brother to draw the nearby Wichita Mountains. Ironically at the time, government policies at the school he was attending banned any kind of art other than traditional Indian art, and he could have gotten in trouble for doing a landscape. The name "Tate," spliced from a partner of his grandfather's, was forced on him at a time when a Christian name was not optional in order to enroll at the Fort Sill Indian School. He attended the University of Wichita from 1933 through 1936 and the University of Oklahoma in Norman from 1936 to 1938. He began painting professionally around 1958, when his work was first featured at the Anadarko American Indian Exposition. He became interested in playing the flute in 1967 after receiving one of the instruments in barter for a painting from Richard Payne, an Oklahoma medical doctor who began studying and building Native American flutes before the second World War. Doc Tate's groundbreaking early flute performances began in the mid-'70s and without him, most flute players in this genre would probably not be around. Tom Ware, Kevin Locke, Carlos Nakai, and many others point to Doc Tate as their primary inspiration. In the '70s, he was recognized by the Smithsonian for his important role in preserving the art of flute making and American Indian music through his performance activities. He was also selected to represent American Indian artists on a tour of the Far East, including Japan. In 1979, he created his first album of flute music for the New York City Folklore Music label. He performed in 1982 at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. 1986 was a very good year for him, beginning with a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship. Then the Comanche tribe proclaimed the second Friday in October Joyce "Doc" Tate Nevaquaya Day. In 1990, he performed at Carnegie Hall and the next year was commissioned by the Oklahoma State Arts Council to compose the song "Flight of the Spirit" in honor of five Native American ballerinas. He also performed with several country artists, including Mel Tillis and guitar whiz Roy Clark. All four of his surviving sons are involved in painting, flute making, and performing traditional music.