Navajo record label lands 3 NAMA nominations

Mike Easterling

FARMINGTON — Continuing a line of success that stretches back several years, an independent record label based in Toadlena that specializes in Navajo artists has had three more albums nominated for Native American Music Awards.

Frank Smith owns Chieftain Track Records, which recently had three of its acts nominated for Native American Music Awards.

Frank Smith of Chieftain Track Records, which he runs with his son, Tritt Smith, was informed two weeks ago that his label’s acts Desert West, Company and Tyra Preston have been nominated for 2016 NAMMYs, with the winners to be named during an awards ceremony on Saturday, Sept. 17 at the Seneca Allegany Resort & Casino Event Center in Salamanca, N.Y. The NAMMYs are the Native equivalent of the Grammy awards.

Desert West was nominated for Best Country Recording for its disc “Reservation Girl,” while Company was nominated in the New Duo or Group category for “Company 2015.” Tyra Preston’s disc “Acoustic Sessions” also was nominated in the Best Country Recording category.

Frank Smith said the label has had at least one band or artist nominated for a NAMMY every year since 2007, and in 2009, one of its artists was a winner — Gilbert Begay Sr. for “Traditional Navajo Shoe Songs.”

“I think for the artists, it’s a big deal,” Smith said last week during a visit to Farmington. “And it’s a big deal for us in the sense that it lets people know we put out good records and what we do is quality work, and that’s why we get nominated.”

This nomination is the second one for Preston, an Albuquerque area resident who also earned a Best Country Recording nod for her 2014 self-titled debut disc.

Smith said there typically are more than 200 works submitted for NAMA consideration, so to be selected as one of six nominees in any category is quite an honor.

The Chieftain Track Records roster of bands and artists is extensive, numbering between 30 and 40 by Smith’s estimation. He said 15 or so of those acts are active on the label in genres ranging from gospel to country to rock to traditional.

The discs "Company 2015" by Company (clockwise from left), "Acoustic Sessions" by Tyra Preston and "Reservation Girl" by Desert West" have been nominated for Native American Music Awards.

Smith and his son run the company out of their home, which also houses their recording studio. Tritt Smith — who is a member of the Company group — pulls double duty as an audio engineer and session musician.

The elder Smith oversees the label, promotes its artists and produces the recordings, but that’s as close as he gets to being a musician himself, he said.

“I can’t even strum a guitar,” he said, laughing.

Tritt Smith has been taking classes in music and audio engineering at San Juan College for two years, which is how he became involved with Company, a school-sponsored ensemble group led by Linda Edwards. The group’s NAMMY-nominated album is a two-CD effort that was recorded live in 2015 and features such well-known material as “This Little Light of Mine,” “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart,” “Stand by Me,” “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” “Give Me Shelter,” “We Belong,” “Love the One You’re With” and “We Got the Beat.”

Frank Smith said he hopes to open an office and recording studio for Chieftain Track Records in Shiprock soon, but he said it has not been easy to find a rental space that can accommodate his company’s needs. Plenty of available spaces are available in Farmington, he noted, but he thinks it’s important to have his label based on the reservation, and he encourages aspiring Navajo artists and bands to contact him.

“We’re doing what we’ve been doing for the last 10 years,” he said. “We’re always welcoming other artists. I just wish we had a bigger place to work, something more professional.”

Several other Navajo artists or bands were nominated this year, as well, including Joe Tohonnie Jr. for Artist of the Year for “Family Keeping Our Traditions Alive,” Vince Redhouse for Artist of the Year for “Appear to Be,” Blackkiss for Debut Artist for “Dirt Dance Floor,” Connor Chee for Debut Artist for “The Navajo Piano,” Primeaux and Mike for Duo or Group of the Year for “Road to Peace,” Primeaux and Skyhorse for Best Gospel/Inspirational/Native American Church Recording for “Into the Storm,” Vince Redhouse for Best Instrumental/New Age Recording for “Appear to Be,” Connor Chee for Best Instrumental/New Age Recording for “The Navajo Piano,” O. Jay Moz for Best Male Vocalist for “Affectional Moment,” Connor Chee for Record of the Year for “The Navajo Piano,” Corey Medina for Best Rock Recording for “Old Dog Cryin’” and Joe Tohonnie Jr. for Best Traditional Recording for “Family Keeping Our Traditions Alive.”

Fans can take part in the voting process for the NAMMY awards by visiting

Mike Easterling is the A&E editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 5050-564-4610.