Buffy Sainte-Marie Finally Gets Her Due.

Terry Baum
4 min readNov 24, 2022


Buffy Sainte-Marie

Somehow, it seems appropriate, on the eve of Thanksgiving, to write about a wonderful Indigenous singer and activist whose music was actually censored by the U.S. government — an artist who is, at 81, finally up where she belongs.

Have you ever heard Buffy Sainte-Marie sing in concert, live? The first times for me were in the 60s and early 70s. She sang of love, as everyone does, and she sang of the injustices perpetrated against her people, Indigenous people. I never heard anyone else sing about that in the 60s. So Buffy was educating me as she entertained me.

Whether the lyrics spoke of the delights of love or the history of her people, somehow a current of joy flowed from the singer to me in the audience. Buffy Sainte-Marie always lifted me up. She was one of those joyful performers.

Most recently, I heard her at a free concert outside Lincoln Center in New York. It was 1997. I remember seeing the poster advertising the event. Buffy Sainte-Marie? I hadn’t heard her name in years, decades. Where had she been? To me, she remained a star. I had to go to that concert. I dragged an unwilling friend along with me.

We came early to that cold, concrete pavilion, because I was certain the event would be mobbed. But no. It was a decent crowd, but there were empty chairs. How could this be?

Oh well. She had the same bright, rich voice, the same beauty, the same rage against injustice, the same poetry in her lyrics. The same joy flowing outward to us. Wow. I didn’t realize how much I had missed her. My friend was appropriately blown away.

And now, Sainte-Marie, 81 years old, is the subject of an “American Masters” documentary on PBS, “Buffy Sainte-Marie: Carry It On.” And there is a long article about her in the NY Times. So she is finally getting her due. She has inspired singers from Joni Mitchell to Robbie Robertson to the Indigo Girls. “She’s a massive bright light and a guide to so many,” said Indigenous singer, Tanya Tagaq.

Sainte-Marie is the first Indigenous person to win an Oscar, for her pop hit, “Up Where We Belong,” used in the movie “An Officer and a Gentleman.” And she’s the first woman to breastfeed her baby on television, on an episode of Sesame Street! (“Lots of mothers feed their babies this way,” she explained to an inquisitive Big Bird.)

That’s quite a range of accomplishments. And yet somehow, as she became more active in the American Indian Movement in the 60s, Sainte-Marie found it more and more difficult to get a concert booking.

From the NY Times:

“Years later, before an American radio interview, a D.J. apologized to her for pulling her music from his programming in that era. He then showed her a letter, on White House stationery, commending him for having suppressed Sainte-Marie’s music. She was flabbergasted.

I was having a heck of a time in other countries,” Sainte-Marie said, “and when I came back to the U.S. everything had kind of gone away and my records weren’t played.” It “never occurred” to her, she said, “that there was a government-supported ban of her music. I just thought, singers come, singers go.”

Is that the reason that Buffy Sainte-Marie kind of disappeared? Is this why she isn’t as well-known as, say, Joan Baez? I assumed she’d chosen to do other things with her time — was totally focused on activism or raising her kids. And, yes, she was doing those things. But she also couldn’t get a concert booking in this country because her songs were kept off the radio, by secret government fiat! Were other musicians subject to this kind of secret censorship? Secret censorship is impossible to fight!

The Times article concludes:

Despite the challenges she faced, Sainte-Marie’s hopeful energy and radiant smile seem impermeable to cynicism and despair. “I don’t like misery of any kind,” she said. “So if something starts bothering me, I either put up an umbrella or I go inside. I do something about it, because I’m really uncomfortable being unhappy.”

These final words from Buffy Sainte-Marie stopped my brain in its tracks.

Uncomfortable being unhappy

Am I also “uncomfortable being unhappy”? I think I must answer no. Unlike Buffy, I am often very comfortable being unhappy. My unhappiness seems appropriate, inevitable, perhaps deserved.

Certainly her refusal to be unhappy must be part of the radiance that both I and the Times interviewer have experienced.

Thanks, Buffy, for revealing the secret of your flowing joy.

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Terry Baum

Terry Baum is an actress, director, teacher, filmmaker, political activist, and award-winning lesbian playwright. Her blog BAUMBLOG is a “Top 100 LGBTQ Blog.”