TONICA — People attending Tonica United Methodist Church Sunday, March 22, were treated to music normally not found in traditional houses of worship. Nationally-known Native American flute artist Jonny Lipford stopped in to play for worship services as he passed through from a tour date in Chicago, which might seem like an odd stop for a touring musician.
Church members can thank the Rev. Mark Nowakowski, church pastor, for Lipford’s presence, since the two are friends who met through their mutual interest in music.
“One child of a lady in one of my congregations is very connected in the music industry, and she began to introduce me to not only some pretty big names, but I also had the opportunity to play with them,” Nowakowski said. “She introduced me to some folks in the Native American community, particularly the instrumentalists. One thing leads to another to another and to another. I was looking for some Native American flute and maybe some opportunities to play because I play myself. I found him, and I absolutely fell in love with him. He’s a really good musician.”
Lipford is not a Native American, but he was drawn to the music when he was 13 while he was watching cartoons.
“I found the flute about 13 years ago when I was watching a cartoon,” Lipford said. “I was flipping through cartoon channels, finding this character playing a brown flute. Later, I realized it was the South American pan flute that I was hearing, but it was portrayed as an end-blown flute. Then I came across a video of a guy playing a Native American flute and he explained how easy it was. I begged my mom to get me one for Christmas, and on Christmas Day 2002, I started a journey I had no idea I’d be on.”
Lipford just released his 13th album, “Woodland Peace,” and is touring to promote the release with concert dates this month in Iowa, Ohio and Florida, his native home. Winner of several Native American music awards, he has also played as a featured artist with the Florida Symphony Orchestra and on several movie soundtracks.
“I’ve been blessed to be able to travel all over the place,” Lipford said. “A lot of traveling, a lot of music, a lot of cool things have happened because of it.”