My father married a pure Cherokee
My mother's people were ashamed of me
The Indians said I was white by law
The White Man always called me "Indian Squaw"
In her second chart-topping hit (after "Gypsys, Tramps & Thieves
"), Cher sings from the perspective of a mixed-race woman who grew up as an outcast because she was a "half-breed." Because she was only part Caucasian and part Native American, she wasn't accepted by either race and found herself looking for validation in dead-end relationships with men.
Cher was born Cherilyn Sarkisian in El Centro, California, to an Armenian American father and an Arkansas-born mother with English, German, Irish, French, and Dutch ancestry. Around the time "Half-Breed" was released, Cher claimed she was also 1/16th Cherokee on her mother's side.
Snuff Garrett produced the song despite his intention to quit working with Sonny and Cher. He had been battling Sonny, the singer's then-husband, over what type of material she should be singing. Lyricist Mary Dean wasn't aware of the conflict when she brought "Half-Breed" to Garrett, a song she wrote with Al Capps specifically for Cher.
Garrett recalled in a 1973 Rolling Stone interview: "I said from the lyrics it's a smash for Cher and for nobody else... And I didn't even have Cher at the time. To me, nobody else could do that song but Cher - that was Cher's story. So I held the song and then it worked out that we got Cher back, but the song sat in my desk for about three, four months."
Cher is backed my session musicians from LA's famous Wrecking Crew, including Hal Blaine on drums.
By the time this hit #1, Sonny & Cher's recording career as a duo had hit the skids with their last single, "Mama Was A Rock and Roll Singer," petering out at #77. Their marriage wasn't performing much better; they divorced in 1975.
The music video aired as part of The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour. Cher is decked out in a sexy Native American-themed costume, including a feathered headdress, and sings the tune from atop a horse.
In 2017, former Pussycat Dolls member Kaya Jones adopted this as an anthem after she joined the National Diversity Coalition for Trump as their Native American Ambassador - with questionable claims of Apache heritage. Critics took aim at Jones and, in turn, Cher's song for cultural appropriation. The singer lashed out on Twitter
in defense of the tune, which she still performs live in full regalia.
Shania Twain, whose stepfather is an Ojibwe Native American, recorded this in 1990. It was included on her 2001 album, The Complete Limelight Sessions.
This was used in the movies Flawless (1999) and Lords Of Dogtown (2005). It also showed up on the sitcom The New Normal when Shania Clemmons (Bebe Wood) sang it as part of a school presentation in the 2012 episode "The XY Factor."
RuPaul sang this on his VH1 talk show, The RuPaul Show.