Frederick Whiteface

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Most of the attention this fascinating Native American performer received came in the last few years of his life. In 1997, he got to cut his first album as a leader, at the ripe old age of 76. It received…
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Most of the attention this fascinating Native American performer received came in the last few years of his life. In 1997, he got to cut his first album as a leader, at the ripe old age of 76. It received several important awards the following year, focusing at least some attention on a man whose musical pursuits certainly didn't follow the highway to K-Tel. Frederick Whiteface combined the traditional music of the Lakota Sioux with jazz, for many years leading an ensemble called the Swing Fantabulous. A self-taught musician since he was a child, Whiteface grew up on the infamous Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota.

He was a veteran of the Second World War and a college graduate with a teaching degree. During his career he learned to play guitar, clarinet, trumpet, and trombone. But just like Jim Pepper, the instrument he liked the most was the saxophone. Whiteface also relished leading his own bands, beginning with a combo called the Flamingos that he organized in the '50s. The lounges of the Black Hills were the gigging grounds for these bands, and while this was not exactly the place where folks gathered to listen to music in detail, word soon got around about this fellow's unusual ad-libbing on the saxophone. Not everybody liked it, but it would be overstating the case to blame even ten percent of the fights in these establishments on the solos he was blowing.

Whiteface continued to gig in this region, sometimes in the contexts of big bands such as the Tones and the Tommy Mathews Orchestra, sometimes leading smaller groups playing more open arrangements. In 1995, he was inducted into the Dakota Hall of Fame, and April 20 officially became Frederick Whiteface Day in the Lakota Nation. His debut album, Mato Hota, was recorded in 1997, eventually followed by a second release entitled Fred By Request. Two of his six children, Elaine Whiteface and Dalaine Bloom, perform on these recordings.