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N.C. Folk Festival Artist Profile: Charly Lowry stands as a representative for her Native American community

N.C. Folk Festival Artist Profile: Charly Lowry stands as a representative for her Native American community

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Charly Lowry has been through a lot. The singer-songwriter was diagnosed at age 18 with the autoimmune disorder IgA nephropathy and underwent a kidney transplant in 2009. That organ began to fail a few years ago, forcing Lowry to undergo hours of dialysis treatments several days a week while waiting for a new kidney. 

In April, she got the call that an organ was available, and in the midst of a pandemic, she underwent transplant surgery. Though it was a surreal experience to receive such major surgery at a time like this, the operation has been life-changing.

“I’m still technically in the recovery phase, but I feel like a million bucks,” Lowry says. “The first time around was a lot tougher than this time — the surgery itself was a lot easier, and the recovery was a lot easier.”

Lowry’s health struggles play an important role in her artistic process. She will share some of that during her performance at the N.C. Folk Festival, held virtually this year. Lowry says her health trials infuse the songs she writes and sings with a sense of hope in the face of fear and adversity.

“When I speak to people, I try to come at them with gratitude and just how blessed I feel,” she says. “There’s a message of perseverance, faith and hope in there — there were times I was either in the dialysis chair or after I left my treatment, and I was so worried, I felt like I wasn’t going to make it through the night.”

Lowry grew up in Robeson County, a member of the Lumbee-Tuscarora Native American tribe. Music and performance were always in her home growing up, and she began to pursue that on a more professional basis after moving to Chapel Hill to attend UNC. In the years since, she has performed in a number of groups and was a semi-finalist on “American Idol” in 2004.

Nowadays, she splits her time between music and advocacy for the Native American community. In 2012, she founded Peace in the Park, a community arts organization to address the lack of performance venues for artists in Robeson County while also highlighting the impact of violence on native communities.

“Violence is big in our communities, so I sing songs for people who’ve lost someone to violence,” she says. “And Native Americans have the highest number of military service men and women per capita, so when I sing a song like ‘Hometown Hero,’ it’s multifaceted. I sung it at the funeral of a young Lumbee marine who was killed overseas, and I’ve also performed the song for a young Lumbee woman who was murdered at UNC-Chapel Hill.”

The role of faith in healing from and overcoming violence and loss also figures heavily in Lowry’s music.

“Faith is big with our people — we’re very spiritual people,” she says. “I sing a lot of songs about reuniting with loved ones on the other side.”

Lowry sees her music as an integral part of her advocacy for native communities.

“For a long time and to this day, native people don’t have a voice, especially when it comes to issues directly impacting our communities,” she says. “I try to be a voice, and I always try to represent my tribe and my people. I still live in the community I grew up in, and I feel like I’m an ambassador of my people.”

And although her performance at this year’s folk festival will be a little different since it will be viewed virtually without a live audience, Lowry hopes the meaning and feeling of her music will translate, even through a screen.

“Artists are vessels carrying messages,” she says. “I cover a lot about love and loss, and i just hope that it will inspire people. And if they see how much I love performing, it will inspire them to look deep within themselves and do some soul searching to pursue what makes you happy.”

Contact Jennifer Bringle at jenniferbringle@gmail.com.

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