What is not to love about this large-hearted lady in music? Long before the term “fusion” was coined, Buffy wrote and performed it. She helped Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell to become household names. Buffy Sainte-Marie was the first indigenous musician to win an Oscar — for her song “Up Where We Belong” — , the first visible indigenous singer songwriter in the changing culture of the 1960s, and soon after, also a social activist, educator and a major cultural creative.
She found out that she was on a watch list — “There was nothing there,” she revealed in an interview. “Buffy Sainte-Marie has never broken the law. I did not smoke pot on the White House lawn, I don’t get traffic tickets, and I’m not a criminal. It was ridiculous. They had letters from people in the file asking the FBI if they had a file on me. Also, everything was blacked out. It was very petty, very high school and very nasty.” There were enough efforts to suppress her music. She persevered and wrote more music!
Of her biggest accomplishment she said: “When I was maybe 24, I was a young singer with too much money. I knew I’d be able to have two meals a day for the rest of my life. So I took my leftover singing money, and I started a scholarship called the Nihewan Foundation for American Indian Education. I really set out to address the problem I saw in Indian country, where Indian kids would graduate from high school, want to go to college, but didn’t know how to negotiate the path to college. They didn’t know how to get a scholarship, they weren’t connected by family and friends. I have an Academy Award, but that’s not my biggest honour. My biggest honour was to find out that two of my early scholarship recipients had gone on to found tribal colleges. Can you imagine that kind of thrill?”
Her album Power In the Blood (2015) blew my mind.
She released it at the age of 74. Buffy has more music to share. She will stand in front of audiences again, once the pandemic measures are lifted. In the last years, she received honours from several universities. More honours are on the way — for people are waking up. “Age”? Well, age means nothing to a person like that. Buffy is a power house. Happy 80th birthday, Buffy.
20 February 2021