Buffy Sainte-Marie: The Authorized Biography

By Andrea Warner

BY Sarah GreenePublished Sep 20, 2018

"Keep Calm and Decolonize" may as well be the motto for Buffy Sainte-Marie: The Authorized Biography, an intimate and conversational history of the artist written by Exclaim! contributor and CBC Music writer Andrea Warner, author of We Oughta Know: How Four Women Ruled the '90s and Changed Canadian Music.
In her afterward, Warner calls the book — the product of 40-plus hours of interviews over the phone and in the back of Buffy's tour van — a collaboration with the iconic Canadian songwriter, educator and activist, and credits Buffy with reframing things in a more positive and constructive light.
Reading Sainte-Marie's story — she was born to Cree parents in Saskatchewan and adopted and raised by American parents in Massachusetts; she is a survivor of childhood and domestic abuse; she's been blacklisted by two U.S. governments, blackmailed by her former label and financially exploited as an artist — it's easy to imagine that in her shoes you would be angry.
Yet contrary to early media depictions of her, Sainte-Marie practices what she calls "if only you knew" activism; over the course of her career she has educated young people and the general public through her journalistically researched songs, appearing on Sesame Street, and initiatives like Cradleboard, a very Buffy fusion of embracing technology and pivoting the way people see the world (for instance, the program teaches science and math from an Aboriginal perspective).
At the core of Warner's portrait of Sainte-Marie lies a courageous, creative, funny woman who was decades ahead of her time in embracing electronic music — she went electronic in 1969 with Illuminations — and 1992's Coincidence and Likely Stories was the first album to be made using file-sharing software before it was even called the internet — and yet one of the best anecdotes in the book concerns Elvis. Every time Elvis covered her song "Until It's Time For You to Go" (at least nine times), his people would phone Buffy demanding a cut of the publishing money.
Each time she would say, "no." As she says, "My song was already a standard."
(Greystone Books)

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