Busker and storyteller: meet Kevin Schofield, the 'Tennessee Cree'

·3 min read
Kevin Schofield  (Instagram @thetennesseecree - image credit)
Kevin Schofield (Instagram @thetennesseecree - image credit)

Kevin Schofield started his life on a trapline in Moose Factory, on the James Bay coast, where he taught himself to play the guitar and sing.

It took him a few decades, but following a traumatic event – Schofield said he was separated and lost his family in his thirties – he eventually made his way to Nashville, Tennessee.

"It was sad," Schofield said. "I had a hockey bag full of my books and trinkets. I remember I had a bag full of the crap they sell in the Ottawa tourist stores."

When he got to Nashville, Schofield said he lived in a motel room, where he made a "shrine" to Canada.

"I had all my sage and my sweetgrass and all my medicines and my little Canadian flag with a Native on it," he said.

"I'd take tourists and guests there. And they couldn't believe that I was a real Canadian."

But it was soon after he arrived In Nashville, the home of country music, a musician friend dubbed Schofield 'the Tennessee Cree'.

The moniker stuck.

"I like that name because it describes in one short word what I am," he said. "I'm Cree. And I moved to Nashville. And I have a twang."

But to those who know Schofield, his connection to country music shouldn't come as a surprise. Country, Schofield said, always held a special place in his heart.

"My uncles and my grandmother loved that music," he said. "As a little boy, three, four, five. In those formative years, I was bopping around the house to those kinds of songs. I learned Johnny Cash when I was nine years old."

He began by playing with just one finger in open tuning, which was easy enough for a nine-year-old.

"I learned like a half a dozen songs that way," Schofield said. "All Hank Williams songs and gospel songs."

From there, Schofield performed for family and friends, and eventually to the community hall in Moose Factory for larger crowds.

"I learned a lesson there," Schofield said. " I learned to just have a really good sound right off the bat. And everybody just rushes to the dance floor."

We have to make space for our young people who are hurting - Kevin Schofield

He's still playing as The Tennessee Cree in the Ottawa area – you can often hear him playing for passing tourists on Sparks Street –  despite suffering a stroke that nearly stole the use of his strumming arm.

"I felt like Superman without a cape," he said. "Like you have a superpower, but you can't show it and it's gone. It's lost."

"It was like the Lord took 95 per cent of my arm, but he left me the five per cent for music."

This spring, Schofield released  'Meeting Myself at Raven Street', his first full-length studio album, and performed with other street musicians at a gig in Almonte recently as part of the 'Buskers for Survivors' event, in support of the Indian Residential School Survivors Society.

The struggle that he has endured, and seeing pain carried by members of his community, often seeps into his songwriting, Schofield said.

Facebook- Kevinn Schofield
Facebook- Kevinn Schofield

"Not much has changed in 30 years," he said. "We have to make space for our young people who are hurting."

"We have to make space for all Indigenous people across Canada. We're so wounded and broken."

"I know it's gets tiresome," he said. " This record of oh, woe is me, but it's degrading to be an Indigenous person in Canada. Sometimes it hurts. It stings, man."

"And we need our brothers and sisters to have compassion for us," he said. "For some reason they turn away when they see us in tears."

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting