Sainte-Marie, Buffy (1941—)

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Sainte-Marie, Buffy (1941—)

Cree folk singer, songwriter, and activist, internationally known for her protest songs in the 1960s, who founded organizations to benefit Native Americans. Name variations: Beverly Sainte-Marie. Born on February 20, 1941, on the Cree Piapot reservation in Craven, Saskatchewan, Canada; adopted daughter of Albert C. Sainte-Marie and Winifred Kendrick Sainte-Marie; graduated from the University of Massachusetts, 1963; married Dewain Kamaikalani Bugbee, in 1967; children: (with actor Sheldon Wolfchild) son Dakota Starblanket Wolfchild (b. 1977).

Selected discography:

It's My Way (March 1964); Many a Mile (February 1965); Little Wheel, Spin and Spin (April 1966); Fire and Fleet and Candlelight (June 1967); I'm Gonna Be a Country Girl Again (April 1968); She Used to Want to Be a Ballerina (1971); Moonshot (1973); Buffy (1974); Sweet America (1975); Changing Woman (1975); Coincidence and Likely Stories (1993); Up Where We Belong (February 1996).

Singer and songwriter Buffy Sainte-Marie was born in 1941 on the Cree Piapot reservation in Saskatchewan, Canada. Orphaned in the first months of her life, she was adopted by a Massachusetts couple, Albert C. Sainte-Marie and Winifred Kendrick Sainte-Marie , who was part Micmac Indian. Although the family lived in an all-white community, Winifred often spoke to

her daughter, nicknamed "Buffy," about her Indian history.

At age four, Sainte-Marie was creating poems and teaching herself to play the piano. She began to craft her own distinctively poetic songs, after her father presented her with a guitar for her 16th birthday. While an honors student at the University of Massachusetts, she sang in local coffee shops, attracting a following. In 1963, she graduated with a philosophy degree as one of the school's top ten seniors. Not long after, Sainte-Marie moved to New York City where she found a welcoming home in Greenwich Village's folk movement and performed in nightclubs, including the Bitter End, the Gaslight Cafe, and Gerde's Folk City.

Vanguard Records released Sainte-Marie's first album, It's My Way, in 1964. Along with antiwar folk singer Joan Baez , Sainte-Marie rose to international prominence in the 1960s as a folk singer and songwriter, and she produced a number of gold records. Her unique singing style incorporated the Creek mouthbow and traditional Native "vocables" (characteristic syllables without meaning used in repetition). Her recordings reflected a range of musical styles, including contemporary folk songs, old American folk standards, popular love songs, antiwar ballads, and songs celebrating her Indian heritage. Sainte-Marie also recorded songs protesting the injustices inflicted on Native Americans, such as "My Country 'Tis of Thy People You're Dying" (from the 1966 album Little Wheel, Spin and Spin), one of the most searing protest songs of the time. During the height of the turbulent anti-war era, some of Sainte-Marie's releases were banned from radio and television, and her outspoken views on both the Vietnam War and the treatment of Native Americans resulted in an FBI record, most of which "was blacked out with magic marker," she later noted. "I don't know what they ever suspected me of."

Sainte-Marie's antiwar "Universal Soldier" is considered a classic, and her "Now That the Buffalo's Gone" is often listed as the first Indian protest song. Elvis Presley covered her song "Until It's Time for You to Go" from her Many a Mile album (1965). Sainte-Marie also appeared on numerous television shows throughout the 1960s and early 1970s, including "The Tonight Show" with Johnny Carson. When she accepted a television contract for an episode of "The Virginian," she insisted that only Native Americans be cast as Indians and assisted with the script, thus contributing to an episode which received high praise for its authenticity. In the 1960s, Sainte-Marie settled in Kauai, Hawaii, where she remained throughout the 1990s.

Co-written with Jack Nitzche, her song "Up Where We Belong" earned an Academy Award as the theme song for the movie An Officer and a Gentleman. With proceeds from Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes ' cover of this song, Sainte-Marie supported her work as an activist. In addition to founding the Native North American Women's Association, which sponsored theater, arts and education projects, she created the Nihewan Foundation, a law-school scholarship fund for Native Americans funded by proceeds from her concerts. By 1975, more than 20 Native Americans had completed law school thanks to her foundation.

Sainte-Marie had a son, Dakota Starblanket Wolfchild, in 1977 with actor Sheldon Wolfchild. She joined the cast of "Sesame Street" from 1976 to 1981, and Dakota appeared on the show as well, with mother and son featured in educational episodes about contemporary Native American family life. She performed mainly overseas after 1981, continuing to draw enormous crowds, and became well known as a visual artist working with digital technology. Recorded by more than 100 artists in seven languages, her songs have been performed by music greats including Janis Joplin , Barbra Streisand , and Tracy Chapman .


Bataille, Gretchen M. Native American Women. NY: Garland, 1993.

"Buffy Sainte-Marie," in People Weekly. June 17, 1996.

Malinowski, Sharon, ed. Notable Native Americans. Detroit, MI: Gale Research, 1995.

Roxon, Lillian. Lillian Roxon's Rock Encyclopedia. NY: Grosset & Dunlap, 1969.

B. Kimberly Taylor , freelance writer, New York, New York

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Sainte-Marie, Buffy (1941—)

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