Birthplace of Jazz Singer Mildred Bailey

Palouse to Cascades State Park Trail

Arts, Entertainment & Sports Native American History

Jazz Singer Mildred Bailey posing for a portrait at the Aquarium in New York City.

The Coeur d’Alene Reservation is situated on the shared border between Washington and Idaho and is governed under the sovereign authority of the Schitsu’umsh people. [1] This reservation has remained a place where members continue to celebrate ancestral traditions and uphold cultural practices such as Schitsu’umsh language, music and dance. Born in 1903, Mildred Bailey was no stranger to the traditions of her ancestors.

Bailey grew up in Tekoa, Washington, just outside of the Coeur d’Alene Reservation. Both of her parents were proficient musicians, so their household was always filled with song. Her great-grandfather, Bazil Peone, was the head speaker and song leader of the Schitsu’umsh people, and his musical innovation became the foundation of young Bailey’s vocal development. Peone created a style of song that mixed European hymns brought by Jesuit missionaries who settled in the area with the language and melodies of Schitsu’umsh song. [2] Throughout her upbringing, Bailey sang these hymns whenever her family visited the reservation for ceremonies. The Schitsu’umsh song tradition of syncopated rhythms and slurred notes influenced Bailey’s vocal technique and set her apart from many singers at the time.

Bailey would go on to become a star in the jazz music scene during the emergence of the genre itself. Throughout the 1920s, her voice could coax the attention of a crowd within any Prohibition-era speakeasy, and her personality and musical virtuosity began to garner admiration from fans and musicians alike. This was also around the time when Bailey began her life-long friendship with Bing Crosby, who she met before he became a household name; in fact, she was instrumental in launching his career. By the 1930s, Bailey was being broadcast nationally on the radio as a soloist and was performing with Paul Whiteman’s orchestra, making her the first woman to front a big band. Her success in the jazz scene continued well into the 1940s. Unfortunately, health complications prohibited her from performing and eventually lead to her death in 1951. Mildred Bailey’s singing career took her to Los Angeles and New York City, and to clubs across the country. She brought the unique melody and rhythm of the Schitsu’umsh style to the ears of millions, ultimately contributing its unmistakable style of swing and gliding notes to the jazz lexicon. [2]


  • [1] “History,” Coeur d’Alene Tribe, accessed January 18, 2021,
  • [2] Berglund, Jeff, Johnson, Jan, and Lee, Kimberli, eds. Indigenous Pop : Native American Music from Jazz to Hip Hop. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2016. Accessed January 18, 2021.

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