Navajo singer’s journey takes her to Grammys

FARMINGTON, N.M. — Radmilla Cody likely will be the only person walking down the red carpet in moccasins at the Grammys Sunday night.

Cody, a traditional Navajo singer, will be walking among some of the world’s most revered music performers. And she will be dressed in full-on traditional Navajo attire, including the moccasins made by her grandmother.

“I will be sporting my turquoise,” Cody said.

Cody received a nomination in December for her album “Shi Keyah: Songs for the People” in the category of “Best Regional Roots.”

“I thought of my grandmother who died a month before, exactly,” Cody said. “I thought, Grandma, what are you doing up there?”

Cody’s journey to the Grammys was not easy.

She first began singing when she lived with her grandma in Lupe, Ariz., which is part of the Navajo Nation.

She had no running water and no electricity, and she spent much of her time with the animals.

“The sheep and the goats were my first audience,” said Cody, who spent much of her time herding.

Cody learned to speak the Navajo language, Dine, fluently and learned many of the songs and practices of the culture from her grandmother, who had taken Cody in as a child when her parents could not care for her.

“She taught me everything I know,” Cody said. “She taught me to appreciate the simplicity of life.”

Cody, with a Navajo mother and African-American father, was Miss Navajo Nation from 1997 to 1998. But she almost lost the crown after serving a year and a half in prison for not reporting her boyfriend’s drug dealing.

She rebounded, though, and shared that she had been abused in the relationship. Cody now advocates for victims of domestic violence.

Cody will be changing out of her traditional attire into something more contemporary for the ceremony itself, but she still will keep in mind her roots and her people.

“If I win, I’m going to express much gratitude to the creator, the holy people, our sacred elements, our sacred mountains, my grandmother, my uncle Herman, my family, and you have to thank the whole clan — you can’t just say family — and the Navajo Nation, they rock,” she said. “They’re going to be like, ‘Get off the stage.’”

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