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Archie Roach

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  • Years Active: 1990s, 2000s


Biography All Music Guide

All Music Guide:

With his politically charged lyrics backed to the tradition-rooted rhythms of his acoustic guitar, Archie Roach has risen to the upper echelon of Australia's music. His album, Charcoal Lane, was one of Rolling Stone Magazine's Top 50 albums of 1992 and received an ARIA (Australian Record Industry Association) award as Best Indigenous Album of the Year and led to Roach receiving an ARIA as Best New Talent. The album included the heartbreaking tune, "Took the Child Away." Dealing with the many aboriginal children, including Roach himself, who were "stolen" from their parents and placed in non-indigenous households, the song received a Human Rights Achievement award, the first time that the award has been bestowed on a songwriter. Roach's success continued with his subsequent releases. His album, Jamu Dreaming, was nominated for an ARIA in 1992, while, his third album, Looking for Butter Boy, received three ARIA awards in 1998. Paul Kelly, who produced Roach's first two albums, told an interviewer, "Archie Roach is to be bracketed with singers like George Jones and Aaron Neville. What they have in common is their ease, artistic grace, their ability to convey depths of feelings and emotion without the listener being conscious of them attempting to do so."

Born in Framlingham Aboriginal Mission, near Warrnambool in southwestern Victoria, Roach was taken from his family, along with his sisters Diana and Gladdie, at the age of three or four and sent to a Salvation Army orphanage. Although he had difficulty with his first two groups of foster parents, he found a home with a white family, Alec and Dulcie Cox, that had emigrated from Scotland to Melbourne. One of the Cox's natural daughters, Mary, taught him the basic rudiments of the piano. His love of music was reinforced when he attended a service in a Pentacostal Church and heard a woman playing guitar and singing a Hank Williams tune. After receiving a letter from an older sister, Myrtle, Roach became enraged at the circumstances of his early life. Leaving the Cox's home with his guitar and no money, he began to search for his natural parents.

For the next 14 years, he wandered the streets of Sydney seeking clues of his past. Meeting a woman, Ruby Hunter, another aboriginal guitar player who had been "stolen" from her parents, he fell in love and began to raise a family. In the late-'80s, Roach and Hunter formed a band, Altogether, with aboriginal musicians. In 1988, Roach moved to Melbourne, where a museum was preparing to record a tape of aboriginal music for the Bicentenniel celebrations of the founding of Australia. Performing "Took the Children Away" on a television current affairs show, he was overheard by Steve Connolly, guitarist for the Paul Kelly Band. Impressed by what he heard, Connolly phoned Kelly and convinced him to have Roach open his concert in Melbourne. Roach was introduced to a global audience when Time Magazine, which sent a writer to Australia to cover the Olympics, featured the singer/songwriter on its cover. He strengthened his international status during a tour of the United States as supporting act for Joan Armatrading and Bob Dylan in 1992. The following year, he returned to the U.S. to perform a featured slot at the South X Southwest Music Convention in Austin, TX. Roach has continued to tour around the globe, opening shows for Billy Bragg, Tracy Chapman, Suzanne Vega, and Patti Smith. In 1994, Harper Collins published You Have the Power, an anthology of Roach's lyrics. Roach's experiences as part of Australia's Stolen Generation provided the inspiration for his soundtrack for the feature-length documentary, Land of Little Kings.

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