Sunday night, SeaweedSway and Songbird Festival present a night of music celebrating Native American songwriter Buffy Sainte-Marie. If you’ve heard “Up Where We Belong” then you’ve heard a Sainte-Maire-penned song, but she has had an artistically and musically diverse career. A number of terrific local musicians are celebrating Sainte-Marie’s music on Sunday, April 18th at the Make-Out Room (7:30pm, $8).
Cree Indian folksinger Buffy Sainte-Marie first made a name for herself in the folk revival scene of the early 1960s, and released her successful debut â€œItâ€™s My Way!â€ in 1964. Her intense vibrato and complete vocal fearlessness are often compared to Joni Mitchell or Joan Baez, but her political stances are very much her own. After recording â€œUniversal Soldier,â€ a song which takes individual soldiers to task for participating in war (â€œHeâ€™s the Universal Soldier, and he really is to blame,â€ she sang) Sainte-Marie was blacklisted from radio on orders from the White House itself — in the late 1960s, this was a career death sentence.
Not one to let others slow her down, she became a regular cast member of childrenâ€™s television show Sesame Street, noting that she wanted kids to know that Indians still existed and were part of society. Popular culture, then as now, wasnâ€™t forthcoming with that information. Education was and remains important to her, and she also saw Sesame Street as an exercise in democratic learning. She continued to make music, however, enjoying success overseas and in â€œIndian Country.â€
In 1969, she came out with one of the first records to feature electronically generated sounds, with her voice and guitars altered to psychedelic effect by a Buchla synthesizer. This went against the â€œPocahontas with a guitarâ€ image that many had formed of her, and â€œIlluminationsâ€ apparently scared a lot of fans away. Today, itâ€™s seen as an important musical advance and a skilled collaboration between musician and scientist, in addition to being yet another signal of a great mind at work. Currently on tour behind her new, well-reviewed record, â€œRunning for the Drum,â€ Sainte-Marie continues to enchant her fans, who include Morrissey, Rufus Wainwright, Robbie Robertson, and Neko Case, among other notable people. For these reasons and many others, and out of admiration for her eclectic, adventurous fashion sensibilities, we pay her tribute.