Tag Archives: Buffy Sainte-Marie
Born: 1941/2 Piapot Reserve, Saskatchewan
Genres: Folk / Pop
- Canadian Walk of Fame
- Canadian Music Hall of Fame
- Queen’s Jubilee Medal
- Juno and Gemini Awards
“Up Where We Belong” (1982)
- Theme song of the movie An Officer and a Gentleman
- Academy Award winner
- Golden Globe winner
- BAFTA winner
Some Other Popular Songs:
- “Until It’s Time for You to Go”
- “Universal Soldier”
- “Now That the Buffalo’s Gone”
- “My Country ‘Tis of Thy People You’re Dying”
- “Piney Wood Hills”
- “Lyke Wake Dirge”
- “Soldier Blue”
- “Mister Can’t You See”
- “I’m Gonna Be a Country Girl Again”
- “The Big Ones Get Away”
- “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee”
Buffy was born Beverly in the early 40s on Piapot Reserve, in the Qu’Appelle valley (near Regina, Saskatchewan) and is a First Nations (Cree) singer-songwriter, guitarist, mouth-bow player, visual artist, actress, social activist, and educator. She was orphaned when only a few months old and adopted by a part-Mi’kmaq family and raised in the U.S.. Later on, she was adopted back into the Piapot Reserve, according to tribal customs, by a Cree family related to her birth parents.
At 17, Sainte-Marie took up the guitar. By 1962, she was touring the folk circuit in the U.S., Canada, and abroad along with emerging Canadian contemporaries Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, and Neil Young. Venues included cafés in downtown Toronto’s old Yorkville district and New York City’s Greenwich Village. In 1964, she performed at Canada’s Mariposa Folk Festival and released her debut album It’s My Way (Vanguard Records).
According to the All Music Guide, Sainte-Marie’s style, with an “idiosyncratic vibrato”, “made large-scale commercial success out of the question”. What ended up happening was that her raw, folk songs were picked up by other artists and turned into commercial hits. She witnessed wounded American soldiers returning from their war with Vietnam and was inspired to write “Universal Soldier” which became one of Scottish Donovan’s first hits. The stunningly beautiful “Until It’s Time for You to Go”, regarded as one of her finest compositions, has been covered by a vast array of singers, including, but not limited to, Barbra Streisand, Neil Diamond, Roberta Flack, Cher, Bobby Darin, and Elvis Presley who had a British hit with it in the early 70s. “Cod’ine”, one of the few 60s anti-drug songs, was covered by The Charlatans. “Piney Wood Hills” was converted into a country hit by Bobby Bare.
Social issues became the central themes of her songs, not only broader issues like war and justice but also those closer to home for her. Being Native Canadian, she wrote songs about related ethnic issues like “Now That the Buffalo’s Gone” and “My Country ‘Tis of Thy People You’re Dying”. She performed at Expo 67 in Montreal.
Buffy’s 1970s singles charted better in Britain than in the U.S., interestingly. Her “Soldier Blue”, theme song of the movie of the same name, made it to #7 on the U.K. charts. Her only Top 40 hit in the U.S. that decade was “Mister Can’t You See”. She attempted to break into the country, rock, and even electronica markets but those songs failed to do as well as her folk compositions. She commented about this saying that “People were more in love with the Pocahontas-with-a-guitar image”. In 1977, she performed before Queen Elizabeth II at the Silver Jubilee celebrations in Ottawa. She made a number of television appearances, including a five-year stint on Sesame Street.
In the 1970s, she became a big admirer of the Bahá‘í Faith and performed at some Bahá’í conferences along with renowned Bahá’í band Seals & Crofts. She performed at the Bahá’í World Congress in 1992 in New York City. She also set a popular Bahá’í prayer to music and recorded it.
Buffy Sainte-Marie’s most acclaimed piece was the theme song of the 1982 Hollywood production An Officer and a Gentleman, “Up Where We Belong”. She co-wrote the music with her husband Jack Nitzsche. Will Jennings wrote the lyrics and the song was performed by Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes. This effort earned her an Academy Award, Golden Globe Award, and BAFTA Award. Two years later, she completed her PhD (in Fine Arts) at the University of Massachusetts. She has, over the years, been given honourary doctorates from a number of Canadian Universities.
In 1992, she released her first album since 1976, Coincidence and Likely Stories. Apparently, she recorded it onto her home computer in Hawaii and then transmitted it via modem through the early Internet to producer Chris Birkett in London, England. The album included the politically-charged songs “The Big Ones Get Away” and “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee”. The album contained electronic backings and traditional Aboriginal chants and, most notably, won a Best International Artist award from France! She followed up with Up Where We Belong (1996), a collection of both new and previously recorded tunes, combining elements of pop and powwow music in an “unplugged” style. The album received a Juno Award for Best Music of Aboriginal Canada in 1997.
In 2002, she performed at the Ottawa Folk Festival and toured France, Denmark, and Sweden. She was awarded the Queen’s Jubilee Medal that year. Buffy Sainte-Marie currently lives on Kauai, Hawaii.
Montréal’s The Beau-Marks have been credited with releasing the first hit rock recording made entirely in Canada. The song was “Clap Your Hands” and the year was 1960. It quickly scaled the charts all the way to number one. It was also released in the U.S., Europe, and Australia where it was the 5th biggest song of the year. A French version was recorded too, called “Frappe Tes Mains”. The following year they scored a big hit with “Classmate”. The Beau-Marks differed considerably from 50s vocal ensembles The Crew-Cuts, The Diamonds, and The Four Lads in that they were a pure rock band that composed most of its own material. Unfortunately, despite incredible popularity and performances in New York’s Carnegie Hall and TV’s American Bandstand, the group disbanded after releasing only three albums.
Rock bands sprang up all over Canada, perhaps most notably in Québec where rock and roll was called by the French name Yé-Yé. Music historian Richard Baillargeon noted that there were 500 yé-yé bands in the province, 50 of which had significant careers. The Mégatones kicked things off with their album Voici les Mégatones in 1962. The single “Rideau S.V.P.” became a classic.
While Canada, as a federation, was struggling to establish its own unique cultural identity in the midst of strong British and American influences, Québec was striving to define its own character within Canada. One of the most important musical figures that helped sculpt such a distinctive portrait was folk artist Gilles Vigneault.
Other big stars in Québec were folk singer Claude Gauthier (“Ton Nom” and “Le Grand Six Pieds”), Claude Léveillée, Clemence Desrochers (though better known as an actress), and Donald Lautrec. Pianist and composer André Gagnon was instrumental in accompanying and writing for many of these stars, especially Léveillée. We’ll talk more about him later. Monique Leyrac performed covers of these singers’ songs on TV, bringing them to the attention of English Canada.
Canada‘s subsequent pop stars after Paul Anka were Ginette Reno, who went on to release over 60 albums in both French and English over the years, and Canada’s next teen-idol, Bobby Curtola, who ended up releasing some 50 singles, many of which made the Top Ten. His biggest hit, “Fortune-Teller” came in 1962, selling millions of copies worldwide. Terry Black also appeared and, though less successful than Curtola, managed several hits, including “Unless You Care” and “Only Sixteen”. Richie Knight & The Mid-Knights had one of the biggest hits of the early 60s: 1963′s “Charlena”. Also big that year was Jackie Shane‘s “Any Other Way”. Shirley Matthews scored a major hit the following year—“Big Town Boy”.
Celebrated Canadian actor Lorne Greene enjoyed a brief signing career spawned by the popularity of his role as Ben Cartwright on the long-running Western television series “Bonanza”. In 1964, his hit, “Ringo” topped the charts. Another country artist in the early 60s was Lucille Star who scored several hits, some with her partner Bob Regan (the duo was dubbed The Canadian Sweethearts). Her “French Song” was the 22nd biggest hit of 1964.
Homegrown folk artists starting out in the early 60s were Buffy Sainte-Marie, Canada’s first high-profile First Nations musician, the husband-wife team of Ian & Sylvia (“Four Strong Winds”), and Canada’s polka king Walter Ostanek. Folk-pop superstar, Gordon Lightfoot, made his debut in 1962 with the hit “Remember I’m The One” and struck again five years later with “Go Go Round”. But, because his huge international success came in the 70s and the Canadian Pop Encyclopedia cites him as Canada’s most popular male vocalist during that decade, we’ll profile him later.
With the growth of Canadian music, artists from other countries began covering Canadian songs. Bonnie Dobson‘s 1961 hit “Morning Dew” was covered by Lulu in 1968. “Universal Soldier” (1964) by aforementioned Buffy Sainte-Marie was covered by Scottish artist Donovan.