Marty Richardson is a founding member of the Stoney Creek Singers and a leader in the Tutelo-Saponi language revitalization movement. “I’ve been involved in American Indian culture since I could walk,” says Marty. “My parents pushed me out into the dance arena; I started out as a fancy dancer at pow-wows, and I still consider myself that.”
Born in Rocky Mount and raised partly in Baltimore where his father worked at the American Indian Center, Richardson and his family maintained strong connections with the local Haliwa-Saponi community. “[Hollister] was always home,” he says. “We may have lived in Baltimore, [but] this was where family was…where our roots were."
Richardson attended many pow-wows throughout his childhood and was drawn to the musical component of these events. “The drum started calling me,” he explains. “I don't ever remember being nervous around the drum.” As a teen, Richardson founded the local singing group the Young Society. Not long after, he stumbled upon a nineteenth-century linguist’s recordings of the language of the Tutelo, a tribe closely allied with the Saponi. Remembers Richardson, “I started reading more and I found out—and this is the revelation of my life, literally—that some of their language had been written down.” Richardson discovered more than 800 Tutelo-Saponi words and their English translations, a monumental discovery for both the Haliwa-Saponi community and Richardson himself, who wanted to compose songs in his ancestral language.
By 1993, the Richardsons moved back to the Hollister region. There, Marty put together the Stoney Creek Singers, named after a body of water in the Rocky Mount area that is part of the Haliwa-Saponis’ historic home. “Our first pow-wow was in November of 1993 at the Great American Indian Exposition in Richmond, Virginia,” he recalls.
The Stoney Creek Singers are now a venerable institution within the Haliwa-Saponi Tribe, and have released several recordings since 1994. Richardson earned his Bachelor’s degree from UNC Pembroke, his master’s degree at Indiana University, and is working on a PhD from UNC Chapel Hill. He has become as fluent as is currently possible in the Tutelo-Saponi language, and explains that in the past couple of years, “my phrases have become deeper.”
The Stoney Creek Singers are available for public engagements.