For decades, Mandan musician Chuck Suchy has been capturing the history of the Great Plains through song.
“Til I come to my drum at the big powwow show, I’m Rainbow Kenny Rainbow, I’m a singer you know,” Suchy sang.
Almost 60 years ago an interaction with a fellow he gave a ride sticks with him vividly today.
“The story begins there, and it begins with two people sitting in the cab of a 1955 Dodge truck,” Suchy said.
He picked up a Native American teenager on his way to Standing Rock for a powwow. For six miles, they sat in silence.
“I do remember the hair going up on the back of my neck when he finally spoke,” Suchy recalled. “He said ‘Yeah I’m Rainbow Kenny Rainbow, yeah I’m a singer you know.’ I didn’t quite know what he was getting at.”
Decades later Suchy says he knows now.
“30 years later, it came to me clear, he was a keeper of culture, a story to hear,” Suchy sang.
“Two people of very different heritages… It was like two separate paths becoming one path through the story,” Suchy said.
One an immigrant, one whose family had been on the land for centuries. His song, Kenny Rainbow, recounts that interaction.
“Of course I think about him a lot, and I did follow up,” Suchy said. “I know he died in a traffic accident about 10 years later.”
But Kenny Rainbow’s legacy lives on, not only in song. According to Butch Thunderhawk, a relative of Rainbow and tribal arts instructor at United Tribes Technical College, friends and relatives knew him by Sioux.
Sioux was part of a singing group led by Thunderhawk’s dad.
“There’s all kinds of songs that he or my dad or my singing group would sing for veterans, children, funerals,” Thunderhawk said.
Thunderhawk said Suchy’s song is accurate, and symbolic in a way.
“When Chuck wrote that song, he met Ken on the highway… Then the highway took him, it was kind of full circle almost,” Thunderhawk said.
“That’s the intriguing thing to me in that way about art, and story and song, is that it helps dissolve that illusion of separateness that we’re comfortable with,” Suchy said.
Chuck Suchy has six albums, all filled with songs that tell stories of North Dakota’s past.