Kelly Derrickson’s music with a message

Kelly Derrickson’s music with a message

Musician traded in a law career for her musical journey

  • Nov. 18, 2019 8:30 a.m.

– Story by David Wylie Photography by Suzanne Le Stage Photography

Kelly Derrickson received her first acoustic guitar from her grandfather.

When her Okanagan house was destroyed in an arson fire about 10 years ago, the guitar was one of the only things that remained unscathed. It became a symbol of inspiration after Kelly plucked it from the ashes.

“It was a sign for me,” said Kelly, who’s from Westbank First Nation.

From the age of four, her heart was filled with music. Educated at the Victoria Conservatory of Music, Kelly studied opera along with other styles of music during her childhood. She gravitated toward musical theatre. And during her teens, she even snuck out to play music.

“I was in so many bands that I shouldn’t have been in, playing with older guys in clubs with my uniform in my backpack, sneaking out of windows. That’s all I ever wanted,” she said.

In another life, Kelly could have been a lawyer, which had been her father’s dream. A force unto himself, Kelly’s dad is Grand Chief Ron Derrickson, a self-educated entrepreneur who led the Westbank First Nation for years.

Kelly felt the responsibility to fulfill her family’s vision of her future. She had a fellowship to the University of B.C. and even completed an internship in a law office.

Yet, music pulled at her heartstrings. She applied to the prestigious Berklee College of Music for Music Business and Performing Arts, and was accepted and granted a scholarship.

Her family was not initially supportive of that direction. She invited her dad to her first performance at Berklee and made him a deal: if he didn’t like her performance, she would go to law school. But if he liked it, he would give her his blessing to stay in music school.

The performance was a hit.

Since then she’s released two full albums and three singles, and has started the writing phase for her third album. Kelly’s music has been played on more than 1,200 radio stations in North America. She’s been recognized consistently at the Native American Music Awards across various categories, winning best female artist for two consecutive years (2017 and 2018). She won the 2015 Coachella Valley Music Award for best country artist, and her single “40,000 Ft. Over You” is considered the Best of 2016 in North America on the National Aboriginal Music Countdown.

She was recently nominated for two 2019 Native American Music Awards: for best indie single and best music video narrative for her latest song release, “We Are Love.”

Her style has been uniquely described as “country tribal rock.”

“A lot of my music has a message,” said Kelly. “The lyrics may be self-explanatory to me or to the next person, whereas the lyrics might feel like something different to you or to somebody else.”

Her songs are often an honest perspective on the challenges facing Indigenous communities.

“Suicide Song” — from her second album, I Am — is a look at the crisis facing First Nations young people and was co-written with her dad.

“My dad was in residential schools and he was the one who really wanted me to write this song,” she said.

It was the last song she was set to record for her album I Am. But Kelly said she was exhausted and wanted to wait until her next album to record it. However, her dad encouraged her to dig deep and find the energy, explaining that as a kid he’d had thoughts of suicide.

“My dad being one of the strongest personalities that I know, I couldn’t believe that. It completely broke me and gave me the energy and the power to write the song the way it should be,” she said.

“Look at how many kids there are out there — and it’s not just our native population — there is so much bullying and stuff going on in schools. I think that every little kid needs a chance. I really wanted to create hope. If I save one life then I’m doing what I set out to do,” she said.

Kelly said Indigenous people face constant criticism because of the colour of their skin.

“You’re told you’re not good enough and you never will be. What the hell is the point then? Why live?” she said, adding “Suicide Song” communicates that everyone has a unique purpose and gift.

The video for “Suicide Song” has been re-released as a cross between a music video and a mini-doc. It’s one of seven videos she’s releasing.

Kelly wants to accomplish through music what her father has achieved through leadership and politics.

Her song “Idle No More” is a social commentary about the First Nations’ rights movement that caught the world’s eye in 2012.

Kelly’s latest single, “We Are Love,” is a rock anthem celebrating the feminine and honouring White Buffalo Calf, a female First Nations deity responsible for teachings such as the Medicine Wheel, Four Colours and smudging.

“I really suffer for the human condition and I have eternal heartbreak,” said Kelly. “My heart breaks for animals and how we are interacting with and raping the Earth. It really affects me deeply. I’m trying to balance that with my everyday life and throw that all into my music in one thing but have a great message to give everyone where we can figure out how to deal with that in a positive fashion and through love. I think love is the answer to do all that.”

Kelly now travels between her home in Palm Desert, Calif. and her home in the Okanagan.

“I’ve lived out of a suitcase my whole life. This is the first time I’ve wanted to stay in one place,” she said about Palm Desert. “Kelowna’s my roots. I always come back there and I’ve always kept a home there.”

She’ll be performing at the Native American Music Awards in November. For more information and to listen to her music, visit kellyderrickson.com.

Story courtesy of Boulevard Magazine, a Black Press Media publication

Like Boulevard Magazine on Facebook and follow them on Instagram

Arts and cultureEntertainmentMusic

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

As of Friday, Alberta has under 10,000 active COVID-19 cases. (Image courtesy CDC)
Alberta reports 2,271 new COVID-19 cases, Red Deer cases rise slightly

Across Alberta, there are 666 people in hospital with COVID-19, including 146 in the ICU

Alberta Health Services locked the Whistle Stop Cafe at Mirror on Wednesday morning after owner Christopher Scott refused to comply with health orders.
Photo by Paul Cowley/Advocate staff
AHS shuts down Whistle Stop Cafe for defying health orders

Health inspectors and RCMP locked doors early Wednesday

Premier Jason Kenney (File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Chedda’ Heads Grilled Cheese Truck owner Dawson Strome and truck manager Allison Dolan look out from the service window on the truck. (File Photo)
Sylvan Lake’s Food Truck Thursdays expected to return with some changes

The Town is amending the Mobile Vending and Busking Bylaw which has a few changes for the event

A vial of Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine is seen at a facility in Milton, Ont., on Wednesday, March 3, 2021. An Alberta woman in her 50s has died from a rare blood clot disorder after receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Carlos Osorio - POOL
Alberta confirms blood clot disorder death linked to AstraZeneca vaccine

Both AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines have been linked to VITT in a very small number of cases

FILE - In this March 3, 2021, file photo, a vial of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine is displayed at South Shore University Hospital in Bay Shore, N.Y. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)
Johnson & Johnson COVID vaccine can be given to adults 30+ who can’t wait for mRNA: NACI

Panel says single shot vaccine can be especially useful for populations unable to return for second shot

A dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccination is prepared at a mobile clinic for members of First Nations and their partners, in Montreal, Friday, April 30, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine approved for kids 12 to 15 years old in Canada

The vaccine was previously authorized for anyone at least 16 years of age or older

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau listens to speakers appearing by video during a news conference in Ottawa on Tuesday May 4, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada will align policy on ‘vaccine passports’ with international allies: Trudeau

Trudeau says Canadians could begin travelling outside the country again by summer

Ranging from 11 to 20 in age and representing seven provinces and one territory, the plaintiffs are appealing a Supreme Court judge’s decision to dismiss their lawsuit last fall. (David Suzuki Foundation)
15 youths not backing down in their fight to sue Ottawa over climate change inaction

The group has filed an appeal after their lawsuit was struck down by a Federal Court judge last fall

A 2021 census questionnaire. (Black Press Media file photo)
2021 census responses due May 11

By law, every household must complete a census questionnaire

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi attends a senior’s home in Calgary on Tuesday, April 14, 2020, amid a worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. Nenshi says he’s frustrated to hear that tickets given to people for breaching COVID-19 public health orders are being thrown out in the courts.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
‘Incredibly frustrating:’ Calgary mayor wants courts to uphold COVID-19 measures

Large groups without masks have been gathering in Calgary public spaces in protest of health measures

Jose Marchand prepares Pfizer COVID-19 vaccination doses at a mobile clinic for members of First Nations and their partners, in Montreal, Friday, April 30, 2021. The National Advisory Committee on Immunization is coming under fire after contradicting the advice Canadians have been receiving for weeks to take the first vaccine against COVID-19 that they’re offered. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
NACI advice on ‘preferred vaccines’ for COVID-19 sparks confusion, anger

Panel said that people who can wait for an mRNA vaccine should do so

Michael Bonin, 20, from Alberta, was discovered deceased on Peers Creek Forest Service Road north of Hope on April 20, 2017. (Black Press Media)
1 of 3 accused in 2017 murder of Alberta man pleads guilty, sentenced to life in prison

Joshua Fleurant pleaded guilty in a Kelowna courtroom to the second-degree murder of Michael Bonin

Most Read