Blackfeet Indian ‘PoetSinger’ Jack Gladstone (’82) traces his roots back to UW Speech Communication
“I lived in 152 McCarty Hall,” said Jack Gladstone (B.A., 1982) as he sat on a bench in the quad remembering his time on the University of Washington campus over 30 years ago.
Gladstone grew up in Seattle with a Blackfeet Indian father who served in World War II and a full-blooded German-American mother. Although the Blackfeet Reservation is in Montana, many Blackfeet migrated to the Puget Sound region during the war, where jobs were plentiful with the industrialization of Boeing, the shipyards, and other large corporations.
Recruited out of Kennedy Catholic High School in South Seattle on a full football scholarship, Gladstone said, “I am forever grateful to Don James for offering me that scholarship and that opportunity, but it meant far more to me intellectually and academically than it would ever mean athletically.”
Standing six-foot-three inches tall and weighing 204 pounds, Gladstone was on the lighter side compared to his teammates, but he said he learned how to hit and survive; doing whatever he could to support the team.
“He was good,” said James, College Football Hall of Fame coach who led the Huskies to 178 wins in 18 seasons. “There are 22 starters and a lot of back-up players that contribute every game and every week. He came in and did his job, and got better each year.”
The Huskies won the Rose Bowl in 1978, but James recalls Gladstone as both an athlete and as a musician.
“I remember he was not only a talented football player, but he was pretty good at playing the guitar and singing,” James said. “I have some of his recordings and I felt like he deserved what he got and did a good job.”
In addition to music and anthropology studies, Gladstone began taking classes in Parrington Hall where the Speech Communication Department was housed. It was there he learned that “ultimately, music is a language of the heart.”
“That is where I took my first public speaking course, and after that I was in love,” Gladstone said. “I fell in love with the process of experiencing and opening myself to a topic and then having the topic open itself to me… In this process I became fully engrained and fully consumed.”
Gladstone still uses this process of ‘surrendering to a subject’ for songwriting. After a brief stint working construction following graduation and singing in saloons during off hours, Gladstone, from 1983 through 1986, taught Public Speaking at Blackfeet Community College in Browning, Montana. Jack also coached high school football and track during this time. In 1987, Jack began a full-time career in music, recording his first CD in 1988.
“I think Jack’s background as a Communication major, and at that time a Speech Communication major, helps sensitize him to the complexities and uses of language and ways that different cultural traditions feed into a language,” said Donal Carbaugh, 2005 UW Communication Alumni Hall of Fame inductee and Professor of Communication at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, who has researched communication among the Blackfeet people. “His superb use of metaphor and highly reflective use of metaphor is just one dimension of his ability to speak to multiple audiences in a way that’s highly sensitive, but also deeply meaningful.”
Carbaugh met Gladstone at one of his performances in Glacier National Park during the award-winning Native America Speaks program, which Gladstone co-founded in 1985. Carbaugh heard about the show from some of Gladstone’s cousins on the Blackfeet Reservation, not knowing that they were both UW Communication graduates.
“His public performances are a magical interweaving of Blackfeet history and tradition, but also contemporary life today in a way that throws each in sharp relief,” Carbaugh said. “He does a superb job bridging the world of traditional ways of living and also modern-day ways of living, and he can use each to get a better understanding of the other and each to critically assess the other.”
Gladstone has now recorded 15 critically acclaimed albums, his latest, “Native Anthropology” co-produced by Grammy and Emmy nominee Phil Aaberg.
“As a musician, Jack is respected by all, and elevates any concert or recording by his skill, commitment, and art,” Aaberg said. “In the greater world, he is a strong spokesman for unity and clear-thinking, and there is no greater calling than that.”
Aaberg has known Gladstone for 23 years, sharing annual trips to Seattle with their sons, always including a Mariners game and a ‘best-of-seven’ basketball competition between generations.
“Jack embodies the best qualities of sport – loyalty, toughness, great intelligence, creativity, leadership, and a formidable work ethic,” Aaberg said. “The team is his organizational ideal, and his ability to unite people with his humor, knowledge, and commitment is something to see.”
Although Gladstone may not be teaching in a traditional classroom setting on a daily basis, people continue to learn from his wisdom.
“Our world is a world seemingly bent on division,” Aaberg said. “Jack knows that it is truly one world and we are truly one people. It is his ability to bring a glimpse of that world to everyone he meets, even people who seem to be so far apart in belief and action, that makes him a man you want to know, a man who stands tall in our time.”
Carbaugh said Gladstone is a rare combination of a lecturer, storyteller, poet, singer, songwriter, and sensitive man, who was also a football player on full scholarship and a member of the 1978 Rose Bowl Championship team – a character that is hard to encompass in just one sentence.
Aaberg said, “If I had to choose one person to cover my back, it would be Jack Gladstone.”
Jack Gladstone is a 2013 inductee to the UW Communication Alumni Hall of Fame.