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Remembering Shane Yellowbird: Trailblazing Country Musician Passes Away

Updated: Apr 30, 2022

"What he accomplished is huge. No male Indigenous country music artist has yet to do what he has done. He was as good as they come” - Blues and Country musician Crystal Shawanda.

Acclaimed country musician Shane Yellowbird has sadly passed away at the age of 42 in Calgary. A social media post from his younger sister confirmed Shane’s passing late Monday night.

“My big brother Shane inspired me to sing and draw. Both of us were fortunate to be raised by our kokum Sheila, we both call her our mom. Last time I saw him [...] we talked about […] how hard it can be to find inspiration but once we do we can get lost in a project with how it just heals us. I'll always love and miss you brother.. fly High.”

Born in Maskawacis, Yellowbird was widely regarded as a trailblazer in country music, having won not only Aboriginal and Native American Music Awards, but also CMA Country Music Awards. Yellowbird was also nominated for a Juno.

Although Yellowbird was thoroughly embraced by the Indigenous community as a country icon, his popularity transcended Indigenous genres, launching him into international recognition. As a top-charted country singer, songwriter, lyricist and performer, Shane Yellowbird hung his grand ‘ol rodeo cowboy hat among melodic country stars.

"What he accomplished is huge. No male Indigenous country music artist has yet to do what he has done.” said blues and country singer Crystal Shawanda.

Producer Louis O’Reilly from O’Reilly International signed Shane Yellowbird in 2003. "I never signed Shane because he was Indigenous. I signed Shane because of his talent. But the Indigenous community obviously embraced him and we were very grateful for Indigenous programs that brought him to the forefront."

In 2006, Shane’s first album called “Life Is Calling My Name” was released, which included the singles "Beautiful Concept," "They're All About You," "Pickup Truck" and "I Remember the Music." In November 2006, at the Aboriginal People's Choice Music Awards, Yellowbird won awards for Best New Artist, Single of the Year, and Best Video for his popular song "Beautiful Concept.”

In 2007, Shane opened the Aboriginal People's Choice Music Awards, and was named the Aboriginal Entertainer of the Year, and won awards for Best Country CD and Best Music Video. Yellowbird later won three trophies at the 2007 Canadian Aboriginal Music Awards, including Best Male Artist, Best Country Album and Best Album of the Year for his album “Life Is Calling My Name”.

Yellowbird then won the Canadian Country Music Association (CCMA) Rising Star Award in 2007, further launching his stardom internationally into the cosmos of North American country radio artists as a country constellation. Yellowbird went on to perform at the world-famous Grand Ole Opry in Nashville in 2009.

Shane’s song "Pickup Truck" became his first Top 5 song on the Canadian Country Singles Chart, hit the Canadian Hot 100 list, was top 20 in the Chevy Top 20, was one of the ten most played country music songs of the year in Canada, and became the #1 top Country video in Canada per US That’s Country Magazine. That year, Shane Yellowbird toured across Canada with Emerson Drive.

In 2008, Shane was nominated for a Juno Award for Country Recording of the Year, for “Life Is Calling My Name”. In 2009, Yellowbird's released his second album called “It's About Time”, featuring the single, "Bare Feet on the Blacktop". His music video was nominated by the US Native American Music Association and Best Country Recording Award, twice, for the song "Life Is Calling My Name." In 2012, Yellowbird won Best Country Recording for "It's About Time" at the NAMA.

In 2013, Yellowbird released “I'm not wearing my boots today.” which became popular internationally on Spotify, iHeart Radio, and Apple and Country Music Radio. Years later, his music still carries a large audience all over the world, with thousands of listeners tuning in every month.

"He had a tremendous voice and a tremendous charisma, and kind of a shyness and an 'aww shucks' bashfulness that people saw in him and gravitated to him for that reason" said O’Reilly International. "I was just charmed by him and his talent spoke for itself. Yellowbird was a "sincere cowboy" who always stayed humble through growing notoriety and he liked quiet family time.”

Shane Yellowbird leaves behind his partner Sarah and four children. The cause of his death was not disclosed by his family.

Shane uploaded a very brief background of his life on Spotify before he passed, written by Chris True. The statement highlights how Shane passed through the blackhole of a disability with great discipline prior to his fame. This journey led Shane to find his own world of talent through this process, launching him into stardom. Part of it reads:

“Shane Yellowbird was dead set on becoming a cowboy, before his stuttering condition indirectly landed him the rare privilege of being one of Canada's young premier country singer/songwriters. He grew up immersed in Canadian cowboy culture, learning to rope and ride, and attending and participating in many rodeos. Ironically, his treatment for said stuttering problem led him to a more musical future. Encouraged to sing his sentences rather than speak them, his talent for the vocal art took him away from the rugged life on the plains, instead leading him to vocal and singing contests, which he had no problem winning. Eventually spotted by management group O'Reilly International, Yellowbird scored a record deal and released his debut.”

Shane Yellowbird’s legacy will live on as he walks among the stars and shining light beams down from above through his music. The announcement of Yellowbird's death was equally followed by an outpouring of grief and well-wishes to his family from fans on Facebook and Twitter.

Country artist Aaron Goodvin said: "He always believed in me as an artist and songwriter, long before a lot of people. A truly beautiful soul." Singer Aaron Prtichet added: "You will be missed by so many, buddy"

APTN Community Relations posted: “Such sad news to hear this morning that much loved country music artist Shane Yellowbird has begun his spirit journey. Our heartfelt condolences and prayers for his family and his community of Bo Cree Nation.”

Singer Brandi Morin posted: “I’m devastated to learn my friend Shane Yellowbird has passed away. We just spoke on the phone for an hour less than two weeks ago. He was a gift. His voice and music was beautiful. He was too young. He leaves children behind. My God, I’m heartbroken for him.”

James Napash from Quebec wrote: “I remember him. He came to my community for a concert years ago, drove the women crazy. He was a good guy. Great singer. Prayers and Condolences to the family.”

Renee Chalifiox wrote: “The best part about Shane Yellowbird? He was ONE OF US! A fellow Nehiyaw with talent who didn't give up on his dreams, no matter what adversity he faced in life. He's our friend's relative. He was a really good guy to have known.

The world is going to miss you a lot, Shane.”

Musician Tyler Babiuk added: “Still shocked on the passing of Alberta’s Shane Yellowbird. I performed at the Ponoka Stampede back in 2017, and to my surprise Mr. Shane Yellowbird was behind stage after I got off. He sat and talked to me for a good while and complimented my performance and told me to keep pushing for my goals musically. He was such a kind soul that night and I was so flattered to be able to talk to him about his amazing career and especially as an indigenous country artist. He set the bar to new heights. Thank you for that moment Shane, and may you rest in paradise, brother.”

The Buffalo Tribune contacted Mr. Shay Yellowbird, Shane’s cousin and an elected councilor from Samson Cree Nation, who wished to release a public statement of gratitude to his fans:

“The family thanks everyone who has reached out and offered their prayers during this tough time. We were so grateful and honoured to be a part of Shane Yellowbird’s legacy and the gift he shared with the world.”

The councilor also linked one of his favorite songs by his cousin, "Watching You Walk Away." "This was my favourite songs of Shane Yellowbird. It hit me right in the feelers when I realized how the lyrics apply to sending our Cowboy home," he wrote.

A wake took place on Tuesday in his home community at HBMC. It was followed by a feast on Thursday April 28th, at 6pm at the same location, as per a post from Thunderhawk.

A candle lit vigil also occurred in tribute to Shane at the Alberta Legislature on April 27th with family, singers, music and drumming.

Yellowbird’s funeral took place at the Four Nations Arena in Maskawacis on the 29th.

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