Buffy Sainte-Marie received her Ph.D. in Fine Arts from the University of Massachusetts, and also holds degrees in Philosophy and in teaching. These combined interests are clearly evident in her music, her visual art works, her writing, and her life.
She won an Academy Award for writing the song, Up Where We Belong (from An Officer and a Gentleman), but has also scored movies, ducked bullets, raised a son, and spent five years on Sesame Street teaching little kids and their caretakers that, “Indians still exist.”
Her electronic paintings on her Macintosh computer have been exhibited in both museums and galleries as well as online. In March she was inducted into the Canadian music industry’s Juno Hall of Fame. The versatility in all this work is a reflection of her own life and is best described as extremely varied, both universal and unique.
As a college student in the early sixties, Buffy Sainte-Marie became known as a writer of protest and love songs. Her songs have been performed by hundreds of artists including Elvis Presley, Indigo girls, Barbara Streisand, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Chet Atkins, Bobby Darin, Donovan, Glen Campbell, The Highwaymen, Roberta Flack, Neil Diamond, the Boston Pops Orchestra, and Janis Joplin.
The folk-scene in those Greenwich Village days was a mixture of preservationists and originals. Buffy was of the latter group, and a loner. Having written Universal Soldier, which became an anthem for the sixties’ peace movement, she still was absent from the mass protest marches in favour of shedding her unique light on Indian rights and environmental issues, which she continues to do today, “…because nobody’s covering those bases.”
Her musicianship was and is a reflection of her curiosity about sound. Even in the beginning, she strung and tuned her guitar in all sorts of unusual ways and played a mouth bow, which relies on harmonics and a remarkable ear. But what Buffy Sainte-Marie is best known for is song writing. From her first record to the present time, her songs have been meaningful to other artists and to audiences as well, making sense to both the head and the heart. She is a real original.
The songs she wrote were varied. Some music lovers might think of her as a writer of country songs of protest songs, but her big financial successes (which allowed her to remain an artist instead of having to work in some other field) were her love songs; particularly Until It’s Time for You to Go and Up Where We Belong. She had a string of country hits as well, including The Piney Wood Hills, I’m Gonna Be a Country Girl Again, and He’s an Indian Cowboy in the Rodeo. The protest songs she’s written are scathing and pointed. There is no counter argument that holds up against Universal Soldier, Now That the Buffalos’ Gone, of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.
Buffy went from Greenwich Village to Europe, Canada, Australia, Hong Kong, and Japan, and had a unique career outside of the U.S. She scored movies, wrote essays, worked with early computers, presented a colloquium to Europe’s philosophers, established a scholarship foundation to fund native studies painted huge pictures, spent time with indigenous people in far away countries, received a medal from Queen Elizabeth II, and won an Academy Award. In 1976, when her son was born, she quit professional recording to become a mother and an artist. For the next five years, was a cast member of Sesame Street and she continued to be a student of experimental music for the next sixteen years.
In 1966, Buffy had made the first ever electronic quadraphonic vocal album, and she has continued to cut across musical stereotypes, scoring movies and blazing a personal trail through digital music, while never straying far from the heart of intimate song writing. Whereas in the seventies she used a Boucla synthesizer, and later a Serge, creating electronic soundtracks for songs and movies, during the same period she made rare appearances at huge European music festivals, using the early Roland MIDI guitar. In the later seventies and early eighties, she worked at home with a Fairlight and a Synclavier. When the Macintosh computer came out in 1984, Buffy was at the head of the line.
Today, her digital home studio is as personal and hands-on for her as a guitar was in the sixties. Her come-back CD, Coincidence and Likely Stories, was made at home in 1991. Using her Macintosh as a recording instrument, she played most of the parts herself. When it was just the way she wanted it, she dialed the number of her co-producer in London, England, and sent the music down the phone lines via modem, bounced it off the satellite, and it went onto tape in London.
Upon the release of that album, France named her Best International Artist and presented her with the Grand Prix Charles de Gaulle Award. In Ottawa, newspapers reviewed her performance with the 85-piece electronic band for 20,000 people last summer at Big Sky in Alberta, as well as for tiny Reserves and fly-in communities across Canada.
Today Buffy teaches at colleges, and lectures in a variety of fields including digital art, philosophy, film scoring, electronic music, song writing, Indian issues and the Native genius for governments. Most importantly, Buffy teaches to remain positive amidst tough human realities. Her digital paintings vary in style as do her songs, speeches, classes and essays, each reflecting her lifelong wish to empower creative people’s multifaceted individual potentials “…because we need fresh alternative ideas from every direction…students, artist, women, and indigenous people.”
Her latest single and video Darling Don’t Cry is a “Pow-Wow love song.” It was released in 1996 followed by another CD, Up Where We Belong. The album features fifteen recordings including some of Buffy’s most beloved classics: Universal Soldier, Until It’s Time for You to Go, The Piney Wood Hills, Soldier Blue, God is Alive, Eagle Man, and Indian Cowboy, as well as her own version of Up Where We Belong. Chris Birkett, who co-produced Coincidence and Likely Stories is once again her co-producer for Up Where We Belong