STORY WRITTEN BY ROB NAGY
For Digital First Media
A voice of social concern during the turbulent 1960’s, acclaimed singer-songwriter, visual artist, educator, pacifist, philanthropist and social activist, native Canadian Indian Buffy Sainte-Marie still reigns as a voice of social change.
Routinely delving into controversial topics of our times, mysticism, love, war, religion and the ethical treatment of her fellow man remain the core of her powerful and compelling lyrical message.
Decades after establishing her presence on the Canadian and Greenwich Village folk scene and eventually the world, Sainte-Marie, at 75, remains true to herself and her commitment to create awareness through words, music and dialogue.
Her latest album release, “Power In The Blood” (winner of the 2015 Polaris Music Prize), is a twelve-song collection and one of Sainte-Marie’s most impressive works. A riveting production from start to finish, the opening track, ”It’s My Way,” sets the tone for a heart felt, emotionally charged performance that Sainte-Marie pulls off with ease. Stand out tracks include “Power In The Blood,” “We Are Circling,” “Love Charms (Mojo Bijoux),” “Generation” and “Orion.”
“The record company came to my agent and asked, ‘Does Buffy feel like recording?’ I was still on a world tour from the previous album,” says Sainte-Marie, from her home in Hawaii. “I was doing brand new songs and songs from the 60’s and 70’s that people had never heard before as well as songs from the 80’s and 90’s that nobody had ever heard. So, I had this diverse concert going on. I said, ‘Yeah sure. I do feel like recording, and the band is ready.’ So, we decided to record.”
“It’s very similar to all of the other albums that I’ve made in that it is very diverse,” adds Sainte-Marie. “There are love songs. There are protest songs. There are songs about the countryside and the environment. There are different genres, hot and heavy blues and rock. I think American listeners who may have known me in the 60’s may not be surprised by the diversity. I just never got away from that. I’ve always been a real diverse kind of writer and singer.”
Born on the Piapot Plains Cree First Nation Reserve in the Qu’Appelle Valley, Saskatchewan, Canada, Sainte-Marie attended the University of Massachusetts Amherst, earning degrees in both teaching and Oriental philosophy as well as a PhD in Fine Art.
Working alongside Canadian contemporaries Joni Mitchell, Neil Young and Leonard Cohen, Sainte-Marie spent the early 60’s honing her skills as a songwriter and a performer in the burgeoning folk scene. Gracing the stage of a variety of folk festivals, concert halls, coffee houses and Indian reservations, Sainte-Marie rapidly became a notable music presence.
“I was fortunate enough to come up during the real folk music era when there were genuine folk singers around like Joan Baez and Pete Seeger,” recalls Sainte-Marie. “They were singing songs that lasted 400 years that were passed down from generation to generation. What they had in common was that they were singing about things that everybody has in common — love, loneliness, oppression. I think it was great encouragement for me.”
“I was just somebody from nowhere who showed up in Greenwich Village with a guitar, and I sang like nobody else,” adds Sainte-Marie. “I was really involved with the emotion of the song and trying to give the audience information with an accurate emotion that I was really feeling.”
After signing on with Vanguard Records, Sainte-Marie released her debut album, “It’s My Way” (1963), featuring the powerful protest song “Universal Soldier.” Follow-up singles that have become a staple in Sainte-Marie’s catalog include the 1972 Top 40 hit “Mister Can’t You See,” “He’s an Indian Cowboy in the Rodeo,” “Now That The Buffalo’s Gone,” “My Country ‘Tis of Thy People You’re Dying” and the theme song for the film “Soldier Boy.” The song “Up Where We Belong,” which she co-wrote with Will Jennings and Jack Nitzsche for the film “An Officer and a Gentleman,” won an Academy Award for “Best Song” in 1982.
No stranger to television audiences, Marie has made appearances on “American Bandstand,” “Soul Train,” “The Johnny Cash Show,” “The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson” and the children’s program “Sesame Street.”
After publicly addressing the mistreatment of Native Americans, Sainte-Marie was ultimately blacklisted, first by American radio, as well by Presidents Johnson, Nixon and FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover.
“I found this out years after the fact,” recalls Sainte-Marie, “and I was put out of business in the United States. I didn’t know what it was. It’s not like somebody calls you and says, ‘Guess what? You’re on a black list.’ I didn’t find out ‘til almost 20 years later. So I had no idea. I just figured all singers come and all singers go. I just thought it was a normal music business happening. I had no idea my music had been repressed.”
After a sixteen-year recording hiatus, Sainte-Marie released the album “Coincidence and Likely Stories” in 1992. In 2008, she made a comeback in her native Canada after releasing her “Running for the Drum” album.
“Music is a gift that you’re trying to give to people for their own use,” says Sainte-Marie. “If you’re coming from a different country or a different generation, it doesn’t matter whether you’re talking to a grandparent or a grandchild. There’s nothing that strikes us on a human level like a song that is going to make a long lasting gift.”
“My love and respect for uniqueness and my curiosity and my recognition of mutation is a good thing,” adds Sainte-Marie. “I really believe that everybody is always ripening. Nobody points that out to us. Everybody wants us to follow whatever we’re selling last month. I think in a better future we’ll recognize that everybody is growing every single minute of every day. Nobody is encouraging us to say ‘Yippee’ about that. That has to do with curiosity and uniqueness, not being afraid to be unique. I consider that as a gift you’re giving to somebody else.”
To stay up to date with Buffy Sainte-Marie, visit www.buffysainte-marie.com.