Spotlight on Buffy Sainte-Marie’s activism and music in new biography

Singer will perform Sunday and Monday at Aeolian Hall in London

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In 1964, a dynamic singer-songwriter from the Piapot Cree First Nation in Qu’Appelle Valley, Saskatchewan, released her debut album on the celebrated folk/jazz/blues label Vanguard Records.


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It’s My Way! was Buffy Sainte-Marie’s opening sonic salvo on the world, and contained the protest song Universal Soldier, as well as such controversial tracks as Now That the Buffalo’s Gone and Cod’ine.

The career of one of the most iconic Canadian musicians of all time was launched, a career she’ll be playing in song at two shows at London’s Aeolian Hall Sunday and Monday.

Over the course of her career, the 77-year-old singer has been so far the only Indigenous artist to win an Academy Award for her song Up Where We Belong (1983, An Officer and a Gentleman), been the first musician to record a totally quadrophonic album, acted on such seminal TV shows as Sesame Street, exhibited art at major galleries, and won the 2015 Polaris Music Prize for her 15th studio album, Power in the Blood.


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In her studiously researched biography, Canadian music writer Andrea Warner presents a picture of an artist of exhausting energy, activist spirit and — perhaps most of all — staggeringly open world view.

The book begins with Sainte-Marie laughing about all the times she has been complimented on her set at Woodstock, even though she didn’t even get invited to play the legendary festival, and it ends with her and the author laughingly in search of somewhere to go for karaoke.

“We talked when I interviewed her for Power in the Blood, and couldn’t get off the phone with each other,” said Warner.

“And I decided that I would love to do an authorized biography of her. At the time, I was pitching an anti-Canada 150 list book about the 150 Greatest Canadian Musicians Who Weren’t Straight White Men.”


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Publisher Greystone Books didn’t do list books, but it was keen on a Sainte-Marie story.

The first meeting between Warner and Sainte-Marie was two hours long, and from there came 60 more hours of in-depth interviews during which Warner was able to build the profile tracking how a self-described “limp, nobody, non-existent except in my own head, probably clinically depressed, and invisible during high school hours” top student became a cultural iconoclast.

It’s not always an easy story. Sainte-Marie’s directness discussing what it meant to be “Indigenous 24-7” rather than “cocktail party Indians” back in the 1960s didn’t jive with the white male hippie dominance. Proving tougher than all the so-called revolutionaries of the era, she survived two blacklistings by American presidents, indifference from the music industry, and more.


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Buffy Sainte-Marie: The Authorized Biography

Andrea Warner

Greystone Books, 304 pages

Sainte-Marie always bounces back, and it’s a fascinating and inspirational story.

The award-winning book Buffy Sainte-Marie: It’s My Way by Blair Stonechild told that story with a focus on the artist’s First Nations background. Warner is clear that, not being Indigenous, she pursued different avenues to arrive at her book.

“My book accesses her story through her creative work and her activism in the more mainstream view — as much as you can do that, because that is absolutely not who she is or where she is from, even if she has had moments in the mainstream,” Warner said.

Documenting how this talented, driven, brilliantly honest artist and activist has left her stamp on history over the past five decades is proof that being true to yourself can pay off.


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“Her refusal to ever take the advice to ‘shut up about stuff’ for the benefit of her career, and always having a strong sense of what is right and what is wrong is one of the most interesting things about her,” said Warner.

“She never comes from a place of pure anger; instead her view is generous and compelling.”



If you go:

What: Buff Sainte-Marie in concert

When: Sunday and Monday, 8 p.m.

Where: The Aeolian Hall, 795 Dundas St.

Tickets: $60 in advance, $65 at the door, available at the box office, online at aeolianhall.ca, or by calling 519-672-7950




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