Williams and Ree: The Indian and the White Guy

Recently, I was speaking to a co-worker of mine and mentioned something about Williams and Ree. My co-worker’s response stunned me.

"Who?"

This from a person who grew up in South Dakota. Very disturbing.

I thought every South Dakotan knew of Williams and Ree. They certainly should.

So, today I offer my tribute to the two-man band and comedy act that almost every South Dakotan knows about, but probably few outside of South Dakota’s borders have ever heard of.

Bruce Williams, aka "The White Guy," and Terry Ree, aka "The Indian," met in 1968 at Black Hills State College in Spearfish, where they began performing together. Over the years, they honed their act into a unique and sometimes bawdy blend of music and comedy that often pokes fun at race relations in South Dakota.

Just recently, I watched Williams and Ree do a television pledge drive for South Dakota Public Broadcasting. One joke in particular struck me as the kind of humor that only Williams and Ree can get away with. I can’t recite it exactly, but it went something like this: Ree spoke of his advanced age, and Williams cracked that Ree was only 40-something in Indian years, "because they take off a year for every year they don’t work."

The joke draws big laughs in South Dakota, where chronic unemployment is commonplace on American Indian reservations. Some would call Williams and Ree’s joke about the situation offensive, and maybe it is. But somehow, when they tell it, it’s harmless and funny. They do it in a way that allows people to laugh at what otherwise is a terribly depressing situation. And the humor cuts both ways. For every joke about Indians in Williams and Ree’s act, there’s also a joke about white people. Ree, for example, sings a version of "This land is my land" but with lyrics from an Indian perspective. Titled the "Indian National Anthem," it goes like this:

"This land ain’t your land, this land is my land;

"Get the hell off my land, go find your own land;

"This land ain’t your land, this land is my land;

"This land was made for Sioux not you."

Not all of Williams and Ree’s jokes are about racial issues. They have some hilarious songs, including "I love fat women (they’re shady in the summertime, warm in the wintertime)" and the "Ding Dong Song." The latter is my personal Williams and Ree favorite. It’s about a man who reaches down for a Hostess cupcake treat while driving his car. The chorus of the song goes like this: "He died with his Ding Dong in his hand …"

For decades, Williams and Ree have been telling their jokes and singing their songs all over South Dakota and beyond. They’ve played South Dakota so much that when they were doing the SDPB pledge drive on TV recently, Ree seemingly knew half the people who called in. Additionally, whenever someone would call in and say what town they were from, Ree rattled off half a dozen people he knew from that town and told everybody watching to call those people and encourage them to pledge.

For many South Dakotans, Williams and Ree are as familiar as the prairie wind. They’re a part of the culture. So when I heard that my co-worker had never heard of them, I knew I had to do something.

If you hear of other South Dakotans who are wandering in a terrible Williams-and-Ree-less wasteland, please refer them to this blog post and make them watch the embedded video. Encourage them to find more videos and watch them, too.

In my humble opinion, you’re not a real South Dakotan if you don’t know Williams and Ree.

About Author

Seth Tupper

Seth Tupper was born and raised in South Dakota and earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from South Dakota State University in 2001. After college, he worked at a newspaper in Minnesota and then returned to South Dakota in 2003 to join the staff of The Daily Republic in Mitchell, where he is currently the publisher. Seth has won numerous awards for his writing, including the 2007 Outstanding Young Journalist award in the daily newspapers category of the South Dakota Newspaper Association’s Better Newspapers Contest. Seth’s day-job and freelance work have granted him opportunities to meet hundreds of South Dakotans and travel across much of the state. He also spends a lot of his free time exploring South Dakota’s state and national parks, hiking trails and kayak-friendly rivers.

Comments

  1. John Kohl
    John Kohl 22 January, 2013, 16:20

    Went to school with them good to hear they are still performing
    Was in a talent show with them on campus

    Reply this comment

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