Obituary: Clarence (Clearwater) David Toledo, Jr.
Clarence David Toledo Jr., (Ashkiil bahe Niyaá), 71, of Williams, Arizona, was a man of story and song. The Diné singer-songwriter, also known as Clarence Clearwater, lived his life with a passion for justice and protecting mother earth, which he shared through his mirth and music. Clarence left us to join a chorus of angels on December 28, 2020.
Clarence was born August 15, 1949, on the Navajo Nation in New Mexico, to the Nakai Diné Clan on his mother’s side and the Red House Clan on his father’s side. He is survived by his wife, Kathleen Seekatz of Williams; children, Adakai and Cynthia Toledo of Albuquerque; Summer Toledo of Denver; Fashawna and Gilbert Toledo-Portillo of Denver; Dylan Toledo of Mesa, Arizona; sister, Dr. Eulynda Toledo of Grants, New Mexico; 13 grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.
He is preceded in death by his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Clarence Toledo Sr.; and sister, Dr. Kathryn Manuelito.
Clarence always had a joke on the tip of his tongue and a sparkle in his eyes. Many friends and family will continue to love and miss him, and the way he made each feel they had a special place in his heart.
When Clarence was six, he was removed from his reservation home and put in a mission school to assimilate him into American culture by prohibiting Navajo culture. At 16, he went to Gallup High School, where he became a member of the choir and won a scholarship to Coe College in Iowa. He studied classical music, played brass instruments and discovered his love and aptitude for guitar.
In 1968, he set out to hitchhike the world and landed in New York City. He got a job in a shop, and during a break while softy singing and strumming guitar on the street, a member of Angelique and the Third World, a 12-member band, invited him to join the group. Dressed in a jumpsuit and platform shoes, Clarence became the band’s bass player, touring around Boston and New York City, opening for iconic musicians Kool and the Gang, Tito Puente, Al Green and Aretha Franklin. The band paid for him to study voice and music with the New York Metropolitan Opera. After four years, he moved to Ruby and the Dykes, a smaller band with a guitar, bass, mandolin, and washboard.
To learn more about Native traditions, Clarence went to live on the Lakota Rosebud reservation in South Dakota. The traditional drumming inspired him to use the guitar as a percussive instrument more than a choral instrument, resulting in his unique blend of classical, folk and indigenous sounds.
He returned to east coast to perform “49,” a 1975 Native American Theater musical that toured around New York and in Oklahoma.
In 1979, his went back to New Mexico to immerse in Hozho, the walking-in-beauty Diné way of living denied him in his youth. He began to orchestrate different instruments to old Navajo songs, bringing them up to date while retaining the original rhythms and emotions. His passion for respecting earth and humanity resonated in his lyrics, as he became proficient at singing in Spanish, French, German, and in many indigenous languages. In 2002, he worked with Northern Arizona University researching indigenous Seri music in Mexico.
He traveled the country sharing his indigenous culture by performing at numerous museums at schools. Flagstaff residents will remember his many performances at the Museum of Northern Arizona and in downtown Heritage Square.
In 2005, dressed in fringe, ribbons and moccasins, Clarence climbed aboard the Grand Canyon Railway in Williams. He became the first Native American strolling musician among the cowboy performers during train rides to the canyon. Clarence not only sang in different languages to the world-wide travelers, he enlightened passengers to the Native American perspectives of the Grand Canyon, a place where he felt at home.
A celebration of Clarence's life will be held when it is safe to travel and gather, probably in August around his birthday. Condolences may be sent to An Awake for Clarence Facebook page.