Osage Singer Scott George on the Meaning of ‘Wahzhazhe (A Song for My People)’

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The Oscar-nominated song “Wahzhazhe (A Song for My People)” by Scott George has a deep meaning. The lyrics, sung in Osage, invite listeners to stand up, be tall and be proud. “We’re still here after all of that,” George says.

What George is referring to is the true story of the Osage murders and tragedy that is the basis of Martin Scorsese’s Oscar-nominated film “Killers of the Flower Moon.” George made history when he became the first Osage writer to be nominated for an Academy Award, finding himself being recognized alongside Billie Eilish, Mark Ronson, Diane Warren and Jon Batiste in the original song category.

George knew the “Moon” story when he received the call to write a song for the film. “Some of my relatives were involved in it, and it was difficult to watch,” he admits. But the story was an important one that needed to be told. The David Grann book on which the film is based tells the story from the perspective of the FBI, but Scorsese’s screenplay, which he co-wrote with Eric Roth, flips the script and
tells centers the narrative on the Osage point of view.

With more than 40 years of singing experience within the Osage Nation, George admits, he was reluctant to say yes. “A lot of people get invited to our dances to just look on and see what we do. But they are ceremonials, and we don’t like for them to be filmed, or recorded,” he says. “We were afraid our people would say, ‘We don’t want anybody to see that.’”

However, the film’s executive producer Marianne Bower played a crucial role in helping George understand what Scorsese wanted and his intentions.

Once Bower explained how the music would be used, George was on board.

As George navigated the music and what the song would look like, he had more than 400 ceremonial songs that he could reference. But those songs had individual historical ties to some of the singers and other members of the community. He settled on an original composition. “We prayed about it, and we started coming together saying ‘How does this sound?’ ‘What about this?’” George says.

The lyrics hold deep meaning that resonates with the theme of the film but also extends beyond
it. George says the words are simple. “‘I’m asking my people to stand up.’ The next phrase translates as ‘God made it for us.’ The expression I’m trying to say is ‘Stand up, be tall and be proud. We’re still here after all of that.”

Once the song was completed, George sent it over to Scorsese and the film’s composer Robbie Robertson. “They listened to it, and a week or so later, they said, ‘This is the one we want.’”

The song plays at the end of the film, with a drone shot looking down on an Osage gathering, as the community comes together for a ceremonial moment. “There’s a worldwide audience that understands what happened. I hope people will learn from it and that people will see it.”

The most challenging aspect wasn’t writing the music or lyrics, it was translating it for Oscar submission. “I saw the criteria and I looked it over and filled out the forms. It said, ‘sheet music’ and I thought how were we going to do that?”

He ended up calling Marvin Pair, a musician and someone who had studied Osage. Says George, “He was the only one I could think of, and the only one I knew could do it.”

“Killers of the Flower Moon” landed 10 Oscar nominations, including a history record-making nod for Lily Gladstone. She became the first Native American to be nominated for actress.

Now that he’s had a few weeks to absorb the news, George is pleased for the Osage community, and that not only are audiences watching the film, but also hearing his music. “We are at this juncture where we’ve never been before in regards to recognition,” he notes.

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