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. In 2015, she surprised with new pop album Power In the Blood which received praise from the critics and won the Polaris Prize for the year’s best album. Buffy Sainte-Marie currently lives on Kauai, Hawaii.