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date: 20 October 2019

  • Charlotte Heth
  •  and Karen Faye Taborn

Native American group of Creek origin formerly referred to as the Lower Creek. They began to migrate from their towns in the present state of Georgia into northern Florida in the early 18th century. Increasing conflicts with Anglo-Americans led the majority of Seminoles to relocate to Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma) in the 1830s where they continue to share some of their music and ceremonies with the nearby Creek Indians today. The remaining Seminoles presently reside in the Everglades and the Big Cypress Swamp region of Florida.

In Florida, Seminole music includes songs associated with treatment of the sick, with success in hunting or ball games, and with various stories and legends; and other songs that are used to accompany the Corn Dance, Hunting Dance, social dances, and other events (Densmore, 1956). Musical instruments include coconut-shell hand rattles used by men, turtle-shell and tin-can leg rattles worn by women, water-drums and knee drums made of cypress (both played by men), and flutes. In Oklahoma, all types of song and all instruments but the knee drum are used by the Seminole.

The Corn Dance (called the Green Corn Dance or Busk by the Creek) encompasses medicinal and magical songs and prayers, stately ceremonial chants and dances, and more lively social dances. The last two of these categories require interaction between leader and chorus, either in strict alternation, as in the Stomp dance, with the leader or leaders beginning and the chorus following in unison, or with prescribed choral responses, such as interspersed shouts and cries or terminal phrases.

Some songs are grouped together in cycles for ceremonial purposes. For example, four Buffalo Dance songs, together with various prescribed introductions, transitions, responses, and endings, constitute a set of choreographic and ceremonial instructions.

Seminole music, which is principally vocal, includes both words and vocables; it is undulating and slightly descending in overall melodic contour, and is mostly responsorial. Many scales and modes are used, with two (in ceremonial chants) to seven or more pitches (in long song cycles); pentatonic scales predominate. Although both duple and triple meter are used, the most important organizing principle is isorhythm, a device that lends itself well to the oral tradition.

By the middle of the 19th century Oklahoma Seminole Christians were singing hymns initially developed in the 1830s by Western Presbyterian missionaries and Creek interpreters. Indigenous retentions in hymns and hymn performance include use of the Creek/Seminole Muskogee language comprising key indigenous concepts such as a song leader who leads the congregation into hymns and the architectural structure of the churches that reflect the layout of Creek and Seminole ceremonial grounds. In the 20th century additional syncretic developments involved performances by Seminoles at pan-Indian powwows. (See also Powwow.)


Songs of the Seminole Indians of Florida, recorded 1931–3 by F. Densmore (1972, Folkways)Beautiful Beyond: Christian Songs in Native Languages (2005, Folkways)


  • M. Moore-Willson: The Seminoles of Florida (New York, 1896)
  • F. Densmore: Seminole Music (Washington, DC, 1956)
  • C. Heth: Review of Songs of the Seminole Indians of Florida, EM, xix (1975), 336
  • G.P. Murdock and T.J. O’Leary: Ethnographic Bibliography of North America (New Haven, CT, 1975)
  • J.M. Schultz: The Seminole Baptist Churches of Oklahoma: Maintaining a Traditional Community (Norman, OK, 1999)
  • K.F. Taborn: Momis Komet (“We will endure”): The Indigenization of Christian Hymn Singing by Creek and Seminole Indians (thesis, CUNY, Hunter College, 2004)
The English Madrigal School, rev. as The English Madrigalists