The Cherokee National Youth Choir recently won the Governor’s Arts Award. It is the most prestigious arts award in the state of Oklahoma.

It was my honor to nominate the Cherokee National Youth Choir for the Community Service Award from the Oklahoma Arts Council, an award annually issued by the governor. 

This particular honor recognizes Oklahoma individuals or groups for significant contributions to the arts in the areas of leadership and volunteerism.

Without a doubt, the youth choir acts as ambassadors for the Cherokee Nation, as their beautiful voices show the strength of the Cherokee Nation and our culture.

The group is active in the community through volunteer efforts, and it raises awareness to important causes. Members often lead fundraisers or donation drives when community members are in need. Their dedication does not end with music.

Typically, the choir consists of 30-40 young Cherokees from northeast Oklahoma communities. The members, who perform traditional Cherokee songs in the Cherokee language, are middle and high school youth, usually in the sixth through 12th grade.

The students compete in rigorous auditions every year for inclusion in the group, which is funded solely by the Cherokee Nation and is directed by Mary Kay Henderson and Kathy Sierra. 

The goal of the choir is to increase awareness of Cherokee culture and it is an important tool to keep our young citizens involved in the Cherokee language and heritage.

A staple at Cherokee Nation events and ceremonies, the choir’s music has a special way of connecting its audience to Cherokee Nation’s history, culture and language. That success is not limited to the tribe’s borders.

Over the years, the group has performed around the United States, including two appearances at the Macy’s Day Parade in New York. Founded in 2000, the choir has recorded 13 CDs and has performed with legendary artists like Foreigner, Dolly Parton, Vince Gill, Roy Clark, Kenny Rogers and the Oak Ridge Boys. 

It has been a remarkable year for the Cherokee National Youth Choir.

In addition to the recent state award, it also won the award for Best Pop Recording during the 17th annual Native American Music Awards this past year.

Another impressive honor the youth choir secured in 2014 was its selection for a GRAMMY Foundation award worth $10,000 for stressing the importance of music in school. More than 120 other vocal groups were considered for that effort.

The Cherokee National Youth Choir is part of the long tradition of excellent musical talents in Oklahoma, and they have brought acclaim and accolades to the Cherokee Nation and the state.

The talent represented each year within the Cherokee National Youth Choir is impressive, and I could not be more proud of their contributions.

These young people represent the best of the Cherokee Nation and remain the future of our communities. 

The choir’s latest album, “Just Jesus,” is available through Cherokee Nation’s Gift Shops or online at www.cherokeegiftshop.com.

Bill John Baker is the Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation.