Jerry Alfred during an interview.
Jerry Alfred is a Northern Tutchone musician residing in Pelly Crossing, Yukon. He was designated "Keeper of Songs" at birth, an honorary title of which he has made into a career, updating traditional Tutchone music by adding traditional 20th century Western influences.
Alfred was born in Mayo, Yukon in September 1955 into traditional life, speaking the indigenous Northern Tutchone language, a skill that he's kept alive in spite of being sent to residential English speaking schools at five years old. He was born into the Crow Clan and was given the title "Keeper of Songs" preceding his father. Being given this position, he got the responsibility of collecting traditional songs and performing at ceremonial events for the Selkirk First Nation. His position also involved him in representation for his people in potlaches, or meetings with the Aboriginal Yukon community.
His training began during his time in residential schools, as a member of the choir. When Alfred was seven, his parents got him his first guitar, and began to learn in determination during his teens, probably due to influence from Bob Dylan, an influence still living in Alfred's music today. In the 1980s and 1990s, Alfred was a major part of negotiations with the Canadian government over the Selkirks' land claim, which was agreed upon in 1995. In this exact year, Alfred won Juno Award for Aboriginal Recording of the Year.
In 1994, Alfred's father made a major effort to pressure Alfred into people's songs again, and after his father died, he was inspired to release a record, "Etsi Shon" or "Grandfather Song", which also served as a purpose for keeping the language and music alive of the Selkirk people. Since, Alfred has released two other albums, "Nendaa" (Go Back) in 1996 and "Kehlonn" in 1998 with his band, the Medicine Beat.
Today, Alfred plans on passing the position of "Keeper of the Songs" to his oldest daughter, Cenjeya ("Cute one"), who along with his younger daughter, Saanuwa ("precious one"), is being taught by Alfred in traditions and music.