Sweet Grass Records is a Saskatoon-based business that been operating now for 28 years and has released over 250 Indigenous albums. The label was groundbreaking in Canada as an Indigenous owned and led label that had an ear to the ground for the best traditional music and began in 1993 when CD’s were making their debut and tape cassettes were still a popular format.
Owner and Producer Ted Whitecalf has a passion for his culture and powwow; he is Cree from Sweet Grass First Nation (SK). He truly stands out as a unique individual within Canada’s recording industry landscape for his multiple talents as a studio engineer, knowledge keeper of traditional music, promoter, photographer and director, to name a few.
Ted’s early career began at the Saskatchewan Indian Cultural Centre, there the senior team encouraged him to go into postsecondary training. He went on to receive his audio/visual certification at Fanshawe College in London, Ontario and returned to SICC as the Director of the Audiovisual Department creating audio and video and books on Indigenous language and cultural traditions. He also worked with the (former) Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations as the Technical Coordinator responsible for television programs focusing on First Nations Issues. HE has always worked with Elders and learned traditions as a child growing up on Sweetgrass Frist Nation. All Ted’s experiences ultimately led his entrepreneurial nature to the creation of Sweet Grass Records.
JUNO Nod Out of the Gate
Within its first year, Sweet Grass Records received a 1994 Juno nomination for Stoney Park by the Stoney Park Singers form Morley Alberta in the then-new category of Best Music of Aboriginal Canada Recording; a strong indication that the label would be a force within the music industry.
Powwow Receives National Distribution
Ted went on to placed Indigenous music on the Canadian map through a major partnership in 1993 with EMI Records which distributed traditional music at a national and international level. They developed a blues album together. The EMI agreement saw Ted travel in 1996 to Cannes France to meet with industry leaders to market Indigenous music throughout Europe; a strong interest in powwow music received from the label, particularly from Germany.
Ted also travelled to Arizona to meet with area distributors, always looking to build bridges and understating of the music and for the artists themselves. He was invited to Scjimitzen to record……four years in a row.
Stories and Languages
Ted is well respected among First Nations for making it his mission to help retain cultural knowledge by recording it to the highest standard possible, this also includes Elders. He has made major efforts to record/and honour Elder stories through audio and book forms. HE also promotes role models in photography. His goal, to ensure that Indigenous children will be able to hear Elder voices, see their community members thrive and to learn stories and Indigenous languages.
Ted’s promotional work and leadership has led to collaborations with several noteworthy Canadian musicians. Saskatchewan-born artist Buffy Sainte Marie wrote, composed, and recorded her widely known round dance song Darling Don't Cry with powwow singer Edmund Bull in Sweet Grass's Saskatoon studio in 1996. The single was instantly popular across North America and has became a staple within Buffy’s live concerts to this day.
Also, at a JUNO show in 1996, Buffy happened to be sitting next to Barenaked Ladies bassist Jim Creeggan, and during a chance meeting Jim was introduced to the Stony Park Singers. This led to their collaboration with the Barenaked Ladies' album Born on a Pirate Ship, again Ted’s studio was utilized for the session.
At the 2004 Juno Awards, Nelly Furtado invited the Whitefish Jrs, both nominees, to join her on her performance at the show, Sweet Grass Records set up the rehearsal with Furtado’s team and the performance was show stopping.
Sweet Grass Records Today
Today, Sweet Grass Records has branched its music recordings into photography, merchandise sales, publishing. It is a business known for respecting Indigenous traditions, culture and language and for innovation and advancement of all of the products they produce. They have re-released digitized versions from their vast library and are contemplating more work here.
As an Cree man within Canada’s recording industry, Ted Whitecalf has dedicated his career and life to ensuring Indigenous music, stories and languages thrive and are granted the love and respect they truly deserve. He speaks with passion about the lable, “It is work I love and a career that I am proud to have had. The drum is truly alive.”