Preserving an Ancient Language Through the Power of Music

A unique and modern approach to reviving this language is on track!

Face of Cherokee woman.

(Nomad_Soul /

Keeping a language alive can reinforce people’s sense of identity and most importantly, lead to the preservation of a whole culture. This is probably why a group of Cherokee and non-Cherokee music artists decided to create a multi-genre music album exclusively in the Cherokee language. This is part of a bid to preserve this ancient, fading language.

Revitalizing an endangered language

While two languages worldwide are lost every week, Cherokee is a highly endangered Native American language. Currently, there are fewer than 2,000 fluent speakers of the language remaining in the world, and the number is declining every year, executive director of the Cherokee Nation Language Department, Howard Paden, revealed to the Oklahoma newspaper Tulsa World

Given that the Cherokee culture is deeply embedded in its language, its revitalization is key. While the Cherokee Nation is currently carrying out 26 different language programs and projects with this goal in mind, the creation of a compilation album of original songs performed in the Cherokee language is one of their most innovative efforts to date.

The initiative is the result of a partnership between Horton Records, a volunteer-based nonprofit, and Cherokee award-winning filmmaker Jeremy Charles, Oklahoma newspaper The Journal Record details. The album features a dozen Cherokee artists and includes a real variety of genres ranging from folk, country, and heavy metal to hip hop and even reggae. 

While some of the artists are Cherokee speakers, the majority had to work with the help of native speakers to learn the language for the album.

Woman standing and looking at a dreamcatcher hanging from the trees in a forest.

(Tithi Luadthong  /

Music that preserves a whole culture

There are different ways to keep a language alive and according to Howard Paden, the album intends to bring a modern approach to the revitalization of the Cherokee language. One promising strategy is to introduce it to young people, and what better route than to use the language of contemporary music to achieve such a meaningful goal. 

“Wherever our kids are, our language needs to be there, too,” Paden explained to Tulsa World. “Our belief is very simple. The Cherokee language is so powerful that it becomes very addictive. If we can get that around to (people) and enter their hearts at a very young age, then they will always be connected to who we are as a people.”

The album, with a release date expected to coincide with the 2022 Cherokee National Holiday over Labor Day weekend in September, aims to raise interest and expand the sum of Cherokee speakers. 

“This music will shine a spotlight on Cherokee artists and speakers and increase exposure to our culture and language on a worldwide scale,” Charles told the Journal Record. “Most importantly, we’re hoping this album is an inspiration to Cherokee language learners that will lead to more contemporary music being made in the future.”

Why we should care

Sara Snyder Hopkins, ​​an Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Director of the Cherokee Language Program at Western Carolina University, shares in a compelling TED Talk why we should care about dying languages and Cherokee in particular.

She explains that multilingualism is very powerful since it provides a different way of understanding and perceiving the world. This, she believes, can result in technological and scientific advancement for humankind. 

So preserving endangered languages like Cherokee is not only about helping specific communities affected but also about recognizing and celebrating diversity as one of humankind’s greatest strengths.

Welcome sign in English and Cherokee in North Carolina.

(Dee Browning /