Edward Wapp Jr. not only played the Native American flute, he made them, commissioned them to be made, and taught hundreds of Native students how to play the flute, piano and other musical instruments. Wapp passed away suddenly at home on April 18, in Oklahoma, where he had been ill for a few months. He had just left an OU Medical Center Hotel after a month-long stay. As friends learned of his passing, Facebook was abuzz with tributes from friends and students.
Wapp was Comanche and Sac & Fox, from Lawton, Oklahoma. His mother Josephine Myers-Wapp (1912-2014) walked on two years ago and was recently honored in Santa Fe at the Museum of Indian Art and Culture along with other influential Native women artists. Josephine Wapp was one of the first instructors selected in 1962 at the new Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Ed Wapp went on to also become a beloved teacher at IAIA, just like his mother. He made the plastic flutes that he handed out to students himself, and although his tests were said to be hard, all his students appreciated him and would call him a friend later in life. After he retired from IAIA he often went to schools to teach Native flute and Native music to all ages.
He was an original member of the Returning the Gift Conference at OU in Norman, Oklahoma in 1992. He did undergrad studies in Kansas and received a degree in Ethnomusicology, and majored in Native American Music, at the University of Washington in Seattle. While he is not mentioned as a professional player of the Native American Flute on an extensive Wikipedia page of the same name, he does have a reference: Edward Wapp, Jr. (1984). “The American Indian Courting Flute: Revitalization and Change.” Sharing a Heritage: American Indian Arts, edited by Charlotte Heth and Michael Swarm. Contemporary American Indian Issues Series, Number 5 (Los Angeles: American Indian Studies Center, UCLA): 49–60.
Hanay Geiogamah, of Los Angeles, California, wrote a wonderful tribute to Wapp on his Facebook page, speaking on behalf of his many associates, admirers and friends.
“Hello to all my friends, colleagues, fellow artists and tribal folks:
I want to share with you my sorrow on the passing of Mr. Ed Wapp, a Comanche tribal member and long-time educator in American Indian music and arts and culture. Ed passed away in Oklahoma yesterday (Monday, April 18) at the age of 73. I knew Ed Wapp and worked with him off and on various projects and productions over the past 45 years, all the way back to the NIYC years in the early 1970s in New Mexico. He taught music and arts/culture at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe for over 25 years and helped many hundreds of students learn how to sing, drum, dance, compose and understand the gift of music. He was a respected pianist and an expert flautist. Ed always infused laughter and fun into his work and exerted positive energy and a respectful decorum wherever he was. He had many, many friends and fans. All of us will miss him, and we will certainly honor his memory. Condolences to Ed’s relatives and family members in Oklahoma. This is a sad loss. Aho. – Hanay Geiogamah.”
Clyde Hall from Ft. Hall, Idaho and a lifelong friend said, “Ed was a student of Doc Tate Nevaquaya (1932-1996) and Doc and Ed were both responsible for reviving Native American flute into world popularity through his lectures and concerts. He made friends for life, had a real sense of ‘Indian Humor,’ loved Indian culture and ways and was an all-around great person! We never made it to Paris, France like we planned last year. I will miss your handwritten letters, our long chats on the phone and Facebook time together. I hate to see you go…travel well to the other side…”
Barney Bush, Shawnee poet, and Ed Wapp were friends at IAIA. He said that Wapp was brilliant, intelligent and funny, spoke Native and European languages, knew “every” Indian song and could play classical piano. Ed had a singing group at IAIA, “The E-Yah-Pah-Hah Singers” that he took to so many concerts and events, “like they were rock stars” and Barney said then-student Kevin Locke nicknamed them “Ed Wapp & the Wappettes.” Ed’s fantasy was to live in Paris, but apparently was never able to swing that before he passed, although he had many friends in Amsterdam and Paris.
He toured Europe with Barney Bush and jazz musician Tony Hymas and there was a performance recorded on an album called “Oyate” (1990, re-issued and still available on CD/vinyl) that featured John Trudell, Jim Pepper, Bonnie Jo Hunt, and Floyd Westerman. It was directed by Hanay Geiogamah and produced by Jean Richard, of Paris. Barney said there is a whole history that should be told about how Indians were able to use the education system from the 1880s to the 1970s to not only survive but keep traditions and culture alive even while the governments and churches were trying to abolish them. Ed Wapp’s family benefited from those early Indian schools and they were able to teach and pass on so much to the next generations.
Safe journey brother, teacher, and friend.