Born on a Cree reservation in Qu'Appelle Valley, Saskatchewan, Buffy Sainte-Marie was adopted and raised in Maine and Massachusetts. She received a PhD in Fine Art from the University of Massachusetts and also holds degrees in both Oriental Philosophy and teaching, influences which form the backbone of her music, visual art and social activism.
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As a college student in the early 1960s, Buffy Sainte-Marie became known as a writer of protest songs and love songs. Many of these became huge hits and classics of the era, performed by hundreds of other artists such as Janis Joplin, Barbra Streisand, Elvis Presley, The Highwaymen, Neil Diamond, Tracy Chapman and The Boston Pops Orchestra, to name a few.
Buffy had a unique career outside the States, working in Europe, Canada, Australia, Hong Kong and Japan. She wrote songs and essays, established a scholarship foundation to fund Native American study, spent time with indigenous people in far away countries, received a medal from Queen Elizabeth II and presented a colloquium to Europe's philosophers.
In 1976 she quit recording to be a mommy and an artist, and to continue as a student of experimental music. Buffy and her son Dakota Wolfchild Starblanket became well known for their five-year stint on Sesame Street, where they taught us that "Indians still exist." Her song "Up Where We Belong," as recorded by Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes for the film An Officer and A Gentleman, won an Academy Award in 1982.
With Dakota grown up, Buffy re-entered the music scene in 1993 with her comeback album Coincidence and Likely Stories (EMI). That year, she also helped establish a new Juno Awards category for music of aboriginal Canada. Her recognition as a major Canadian artist that summer was accented by a performance with the National Arts Center Orchestra at the Musem of Civilization in Ottawa. The next day's newspaper headlines described Buffy's concert as "superb, powerful, and moving, drawing a roaring and deserved standing ovation."
That same year, France named Buffy Sainte-Marie 'Best International Artist of 1993 and the United Nations chose her to proclaim the International Year of Indigenous People. In July, she headlined a group of indigenous concert artists out on the arctic tundra of Lapland, with the national television stations of Norway, Sweden, Germany and Finland smiling on. She also starred in the American television film The Broken Chain.
Buffy continues to draw huge crowds on the concert circuit - she played to 100,000 people in Denmark - but she never forgets her own people and performs regularly on the smallest of reservations across North America. Her art and music are also teaching tools, and she uses these continually to enlighten.
On the educational side of things, Buffy lectures at colleges and civic venues on a wide variety of topics: film scoring, electronic music, songwriting, Indian women's issues, the Native genius for government, and remaining positive amidst tough human realities. She is currently Adjunct Professor in Canada at York University in Toronto and Indian Federated College in Saskatchewan, and in the U.S. at Evergreen State College in Washington State. She also teaches Digital Art as Artist in Residence at The Institute for American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico (USA).
Buffy Sainte-Marie is quickly becoming as well known for her digital art as for her music. She likens electronic painting to "painting with light"; working on her Mac computer at home, using mainly Photoshop software, she combines colours and light, sometimes with scanned-in photos or samples of fabric and beads to create brilliantly coloured paintings. The art is taken on disc to a digital lab and output usually as Ilfordchrome photographic prints, ranging in size from two feet to seven feet high. The pieces are then framed and exhibited in galleries, both physical and virtual. A current real exhibition hangs at the G.O.C.A.I.A. Gallery (Gallery of Contemporary and Indigenous Art) Tucson, Arizona.
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