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Grandmothers of the Drum: Edwina Lee Tyler Part 2

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Grandmother's of the Drum

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I know that that there is a level of drumming to which master drummers aspire.  That deep inner level of drumming that can heal or kill with a touch.  Few will talk about it.  One of mine slipped once and spoke of the energy that travels through the head into the bowels and opens the third eye so one can see the lines that run the body.   The Spirit of Music mounts the Horse, takes over the hands and drums one’s body.  Broken meridians are rebuilt, tone by tone, slap by slap.  Healing occurs.  They covet the knowledge that heals.  They covet What Edwina Tyler does naturally; by default.  “Drumming in Jesus”, she calls it; that tapping of the womb’s secrets that allows the medicine to pass and manifest. 

My story of  my first encounter with Edwina’s work  is a personal testimony of my experience of that manifestation.   It is important because this is the level of work that Edwina carries.  This is the story she wants you to know. 

Edwina Lee Tyler

Edwina Lee Tyler

Edwina Tyler has been drumming for over 40 years starting in New York. About this she says,
What called me to the drum? God. It’s as simple as that. I really started when I was 3 years old. I was told I would play on any and every thing I could get my hands on. Having the parents that I had, they were artist themselves, so I had it made.

When asked about her experience as a woman drummer and how did the men receive her she responded:Well, I was received in Harlem not bad as a kid. The boys kind of liked seeing a girl playing the drums so I got my teaching from a boy in my class and two boys from my block. Now when I started going out on my own in other places then that’s when the trouble began. I wasn’t a child any longer and men looked at me different; as a young woman. Women are not supposed to play drums and they are not supposed to have the drum between their legs. It was fine when I was a child but when I (was) grown it was a different story. Oh I was kept out of different drum circles. I was looked at as,” You don’t belong here and you shouldn’t have this drum at all. It was very hard but I knew I had a gift so I wasn’t going to stop at all.”

Like most women of her generation, the men told her she could not drum, that women do not play the djembe, and cannot put the drum between their legs.  That denial of the power of the womb so deeply embedded in Africa was passed on to the African American commuity. She did not listen and walked her own path of music and jumped right into the secrets they did not want her to know

Edwina is a talented performing artist having credits in television, Broadway, recording, film, and commissions for other artists. Noted appearances include Alice Tully Hall, Brooklyn Academy of Music, Dance Theatre Workshop, La Mama E.T.C. and The Michigan Women’s Music Festival. She has toured throughout Europe, Africa, and Korea. She was one of the first percussionists for Urban Bush Women.  In addition to supporting others, Edwina was director of her own company, A Piece of the World, which toured Europe, Canada and the United States. We will post her extensive biography in our final article on Edwina entitled:  The Impeccable Edwina  Lee Tyler

Notables at the International Conference of Women, Nairobi, Kenya

Notables at the International Conference of Women, Nairobi, Kenya

In 1985 a Young Edwina Tyler played her drum for African Women at the International Women’s Conference in Nairobi, Kenya.  This gathering of African and African American Women was sponsored by the United Nations to assess 10 years of progress in addressing cultural and social issues on the continent. The conference was attended by such notables as Coretta Scott King, Angela Davis and Donna Height, then head of the National Conference on Negro Woman.

The photographer took Edwina’s picture too!  Why was that?  He knew the significance of what he saw. He  captured  not only an artist displaying her talent but the breaking of  a cultural taboo well known to African Women:  Women do not play these drums!  Women in Africa have their wombs stripped of power and are beaten and killed for playing these drums!  Here sat a young Edwina, playing her drum with a man (hands in the foreground) entertaining African Women probably unaware of the risk to her life and the protection afforded her as a member of the American contingent to this conference.  Here sat Edwina sowing the seeds of reclamation and  personal empowerment!  We are ecstatic to post this photo so women know what it is that she did!  The world needs to know just  what  it is Edwina  Lee Tyler did!

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Intentionally or unintentionally Edwina Lee Tyler  became the Grandmother of the Drum, the foundation of the women’s drumming movement in America.  A movement which honors the power of women drumming.  Some of her students have gone on to become notable teachers and performers.  Among theose she has taught or has  played a significant part in their drumming   she counts Ubaka Hill, Debbie McGee and Phyliss Bethel.  When asked, what is her advice to other women pursuing the drum? She replied, 
“Either play it right or don’t play it at all.  The reason why I say this is because women before you have paid a price for playing the drum so either do it right or leave it alone. Last thing I have to say is respect the drum.  It’s a healer.  It’s not a toy or a table to put things on.  It’s a life force.  It will save your life.  I’m a true testimony for that.  With god’s help it healed me.  Peace and Many blessings. ”

Edwina Tyler is a Messenger of God and her ancestors and a testimony of what women can do when they connect with God, their heart and the power of the Womb.  She continues to teach and perform at women’s drum camps and seminars. 

Edwina Tyler  lives in Long Island  and continues her work of healing working with music ministries in the local churches.   For those in the area she facilitates a drum circle Saturday, every second Saturday of the month. 
Next circle is July 10, 2010
Time: 7:00pm – 10:00pm
Location: Community Baptist church 605 Granny Road Middle island
, New York

We will post more about Edwinas’s  current activities, including her television show, “God can do anything in “The impeccable Edwina Lee Tyler.
Edwina Drumming

Edwina Drumming

Edwina has recorded and produced two albums, Drum Drama and Things are Gonna Change.  Drum Drama is being transferred from cassette to CD and will be available in the coming weeks.  Copies of Things are Gonna Change are available through

Connect with Edwina on Face book: send her  friend request
Follow Edwina on Twitter:

International Conference on Women photos from Ebony Magazine October, 1985















Series Navigation«Grandmother of the Drum: Edwina Lee TylerGrandmother’s of the Drum: Linda Thomas Jones»

2 Responses to “Grandmothers of the Drum: Edwina Lee Tyler Part 2”

  • I recently had the great pleasure of witnessing Iya Edwina in action at a symposium on African Drumming in Brooklyn, at the Brooklyn Central Library. She blew the crowd away with her drum-song-rant! I left there so high from the inspiration and joy of experiencing such an authentic spirit, spreading the message of love and expansive inclusion through the rhythms. It’s been a couple of weeks, and I’m still flying on her vibes!

    Thank you, beautiful Sister/Mother… You are a blessing to us all!

    Peace, Alafia, Namaste ~~
    Catherine / Omi Okan Ara

  • [...] she calls it; that tapping of the womb’s secrets that allows the medicine to pass and manifest.  Read the rest of this article. Posted in [...]

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