75 Facts About Buffy Sainte-Marie for her 75th Birthday

On Feb. 20, the one and only Buffy Sainte-Marie turned 75 years young.

With a catalog containing hundreds of songs and spanning more than four decades, she is living proof that longevity and relevance can coexist. But even more impressive than her staying power in an industry driven by “flavours of the week” and “next big things” is her ability to connect. Whether it’s through her music, her art or her philanthropy, Sainte-Marie continues to shed light on the important issues and speak to – and for – entire generations.

In three quarters of a century she has established herself as more than just an artist, an activist, an educator, a pioneer, or a celebrity. She is the epitome of a true Canadian icon.

To celebrate her incredible 75 years on Earth, here are 75 facts about Buffy.

On Feb. 20, 2015, Buffy Sainte-Marie turned 75.

On Feb. 20, 2015, Buffy Sainte-Marie turned 75.

1. Buffy was born Feb. 20, 1941, on the Piapot Cree First Nations Reserve near Regina, Saskatchewan.

2. Her birth name was Beverly.

3. Orphaned at a young age, she was adopted and raised in Massachusetts.

4. She taught herself to play piano at age three.

5. As a teen, she took an interest in her indigenous roots and took a return visit to the Piapot reserve.

6. When she was 16, she got a guitar. Not knowing how to tune it, she “twisted its knobs until it made the sounds she heard in her head.”

7. She attended the University of Massachusetts Amherst, earning degrees in teaching and Oriental philosophy.

8. She went on to earn a PhD in Fine Art from the University of Massachusetts.

9. While in university, she spent a considerable amount of time playing in the coffeehouses of New York City’s Greenwich Village. She traveled in the same social circles as Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Neil Young and Joni Mitchell.

Buffy in Greenwich Village, 1964.

Buffy in Greenwich Village, 1964.

10. She introduced Joni Mitchell to Elliot Roberts, who became Joni’s manager. Says Buffy, “I carried Joni’s tape around in my purse, playing it for all the bigwigs. Finally a young guy in an agency I was working with got it! He became her manager and built a huge career with her.”

11. In 1963, she developed bronchial pneumonia and almost ruined her voice. While recovering, she became addicted to codeine; her subsequent struggle to get clean became the basis for her song, Cod’ine.

12. She released her debut album, It’s My Way!, in 1964. She was 23 years old.

13. The album earned her the title of Billboard Magazine’s Best New Artist.

14. She was banned from singing one of the album’s songs, Universal Soldier, on radio and TV. Donovan would later make the song a huge hit.

15. One night she met a man at the Gaslight Cafe in Greenwich Village and sold the publishing rights to Universal Soldier for a dollar. Recalls Buffy, “Ten years later I bought it back for 25,000 bucks – the good news is that I had 25,000 bucks.”

16. While in her 20s, she bought acreage in Kauai, Hawaii. She has lived there ever since.

17. She shares her sprawling estate with goats, horses, chickens and a cat.

Buffy rockin' out, circa 1960.

Buffy rockin’ out, circa 1960.

18. Also in her 20s, when she had more money than she knew what to do with, she turned to philanthropy. Says Buffy, “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?”

19. In 1965, she released her second record, Many a Mile. It featured the commercial hit, Until It’s Time for You to Go.

20. Until It’s Time for You to Go became a big hit for Elvis Presley in the early 70s.

21. The song was ultimately covered by more than 200 artists (including Cher, Willie Nelson, Barbra Streisand and others) in 16 languages.

22. In 1966, she released Little Wheel Spin and Spin. It became her first album to reach the Billboard Top 100 Pop Charts, peaking at No. 97.

Buffy with her first husband, Dewain Bugbee.

Buffy with her first husband, Dewain Bugbee.

23. In 1967, she released her fourth album in as many years: Fire & Fleet & Candlelight. It featured two Joni Mitchell covers.

24. In 1968, she married Hawaiian surfer Dewain Bugbee.

25. They divorced in 1971.

26. In 1968, she released I’m Gonna Be A Country Girl Again. 

27. In 1969, she released Illuminations, which used electronic synthesisers and was the first quadrophonic vocal album ever made. While it featured a collaboration with Leonard Cohen, it was a huge flop commercially.

28. Her cover of Joni Mitchell’s The Circle Game was used in the opening credits of the 1970 film, The Strawberry Statement.

29. She also wrote the title song for the film Soldier Blue (1970), which depicted the brutal slaughter of the Cheyenne village by Colorado State militia.

30. After only seven years of releasing records, she had enough material for her first compilation: The Best of Buffy Sainte Marie (1970).

31. There was enough material left over to make The Best of Buffy Sainte Marie Vol. 2, in 1971.

32. In 1971, she released She Used to Wanna Be a Ballerina. The album featured guitar from Neil Young and a cover of his song, Helpless.

33. She performed for the first time in Scandanavia in 1971, and was awarded the Silver Disk for Soldier Blue, which sold more than 50,000 copies in Sweden alone.

34. In 1972, she released Moonshot. The album featured her highest Billboard-charting pop single, Mister Can’t You See (written by Mickey Newbury and Townes Van Zandt)which peaked at No. 38.

35. Also in 1972, The Buffy Sainte-Marie Songbook was published. The first print run alone was 20,000 copies.

36. In 1973, she released Quiet Places. It was her last album with Vanguard Records.

37. In 1974, she released Native North American Child: An Odyssey, an anthology album of all her indigenous-focused songs.

38. Free of her contract with Vanguard, she scraped together $45,000 and went to Nashville to record the album that would eventually become her major label debut, Buffy (1974).

Sainte-Marie's NEON HULA, printed on Kodak Professional Endura Metallic VC Digital Paper.

Sainte-Marie’s NEON HULA, printed on Kodak Professional Endura Metallic VC Digital Paper.

39. She was voted FM Personality of the Year by the free-form disk jockey association in 1974.

40. She is also a visual artist. She has exhibited her work at the Glenbow Museum in Calgary, the Winnipeg Art Gallery, the Emily Carr Gallery in Vancouver and the American Indian Arts Museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

41. She released Changing Woman in 1975.

42. She was friends with Stokely Carmichael, Mohammed Ali, Harry Belafonte and other civil rights activists.

43. Given the messages of some of her songs, Sainte-Marie’s music was blacklisted by American radio stations in the United States, a move approved by President Lyndon B. Johnson.

44. In 1975, she married Sheldon Wolfchild from Minnesota.

45. They had a son, Dakota “Cody” Starblanket Wolfchild, in 1976.

46. 1976’s Sweet America was her final album before a 15-year hiatus.

47. She appeared on Sesame Street multiple times in the late 70s and early 80s.

48. In 1977, she became the first woman to breastfeed on Sesame Street.

49. In 1982, she won the Academy Award for Best Song: Up Where We Belong, from An Officer and a Gentleman (sang by Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes).

50. In the early 80s, she began experimenting with Apple computers to record her music and work on visual art.

Buffy cozies up to Big Bird in one of her appearances on Sesame Street.

Buffy cozies up to Big Bird in one of her appearances on Sesame Street.

51. In 1983, she received her first honorary doctorate from the University of Massachusetts. She now has “more than she can count,” from universities and colleges throughout North America.

52. She and Martin Sheen narrated 1985’s Broken Rainbow, a documentary about the government relocation of 10,000 Navajo Indians in Arizona.

53. She scored the 1986 film Harold Of Orange.

54. Also in 1986, she penned a children’s book called Nokomis and the Magic Hat.

55. She also scored the 1989 film, Where the Spirit Lives, a film about aboriginal children being stolen and forced into residential schools.

56. She voiced the character of Kate Bighead in the 1991 miniseries Son of the Morning Star, which told the Native American side of the Battle of Little Bighorn.

57. In 1992, she released Coincidence and Likely Stories, her first album in 15 years.

58. The album was recorded mainly at her home in Hawaii and sent to her label electronically, becoming the first album ever delivered over the Internet.

In the mid-90s, Buffy appeared in an ad promoting Ben & Jerry's Double Chocolate Fudge Swirl ice cream.

In the mid-90s, Buffy appeared in an ad promoting Ben & Jerry’s Double Chocolate Fudge Swirl ice cream.

59. In 1995, her music and voice appeared in an episode of HBO’s Happily Ever After, an animated cartoon series of fairy tales for children.

60. In the mid-90s, she appeared in an ad for the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream chain.

61. In 1995, she was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame at the Juno Awards.

62. In 1997, she was named to the Order of Canada.

63. In 1997, she founded the Cradleboard Teaching Project, an educational curriculum devoted to “raising self-identity and self-esteem in present and future generations of indigenous children by introducing them to enriching, accurate information about Native American people and cultures.”

64. In 1999, she was inducted into Canada’s Walk of Fame.

65. She dabbles in astronomy. She says, “On Hawaii, we have this local navy base, and I have security clearance to go and use their telescopes. I’m an amateur astronomer, and when you look at the stars … or even when you spend time with your kitty cat in your lap … to me, it’s the most beautiful, natural phenomenon … the earth. It’s what connects us all together with everything and each other.”

66. In 2002, she sang at the Kennedy Space Center for Commander John Herrington, the first Native American astronaut.

67. She practises yoga.

68. In 2002, her song Lazarus was sampled by Kanye West and performed by Cam’Ron and Jim Jones of The Diplomats. The track is called Dead or Alive.

69. In 2008, following another 15-year hiatus, she released Running For The Drum. 

2015's Power In The Blood won Buffy her first Polaris Music Prize.

2015’s Power In The Blood won Buffy her first Polaris Music Prize.

70. The album won the Juno award for Best Aboriginal Album.

71. She turned down several music writers who approached her about doing a book before finally authorizing Stonechild Blair’s 2012 biography, Buffy Sainte-Marie: It’s My Way.

72. In 2015 she released Power In The Blood.

73. Power In The Blood’s title track was originally written by British band Alabama 3, best known for the theme song from HBO’s The Sopranos. Says Buffy, “Alabama 3’s original version was already a great song, although very violent, expressing their kind of rage against the machine: ‘There’s justice in the sword, and when that call it comes I will be ready for war.’ In my version, although I’m raging against the same things, I updated the issues and spun the intention into a peace song: ‘There’s justice in the soul; and when that call it comes I will say No No No to war.’

74. Power In The Blood went on to win Buffy her first Polaris Music Prize – and the $50,000 that came with it.

75. She is up for three awards at the upcoming JUNOs: Songwriter of the Year, Contemporary Roots Album of the Year and Aboriginal Album of the Year.


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