Who is Buffy Sainte-Marie? All you need to know as the Oscar winner announces retirement from live performances 

Buffy Sainte-Marie at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2022 (Image via Getty Images)
Buffy Sainte-Marie at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2022 (Image via Getty Images)

Buffy Sainte-Marie, the prolific Canadian singer-songwriter and folk musician, has announced she will be retiring from live performances.

She released a statement, saying:

"I have made the difficult decision to pull out of all scheduled performances in the foreseeable future. Arthritic hands and a recent shoulder injury have made it no longer possible to perform to my standards. Sincere regrets to all my fans and family, my band and the support teams that make it all possible."

The singer's lasting legacy includes groundbreaking achievements in the music world, notably being the first Indigenous woman to secure an Academy Award for her 1988 single Up Where We Belong.


Tracing Buffy Sainte-Marie and her pioneering work

Buffy Sainte-Marie was born on February 20, 1941, at the Piapot 75 reserve and fell victim to the discriminatory policies of The Sixties Scoop, wherein Aboriginal children were forcibly taken by government authorities and placed into white families. The policies echoed similar movements in the US, the Baby Scoop, and the two governments actively collaborated on such policies.

The singer began exhibiting musical talents at an early age, learning to play the piano and guitar by herself while in high school. She subsequently started recording during her college years.

Buffy Sainte-Marie became the first female singer-songwriter in the modern era, starting her lyrical composition with her debut album, It's My Way!, released in April 1964. The album featured music never before heard of, incorporating traditional instruments such as the mouthblow, and featuring songs that would go on to be covered by a number of artists.

She continued to create history by addressing topics like the opioid crisis before the 1980s, the Vietnam War, and the ongoing exploration of Indigenous culture and folklore, as well as advocating for Native tribes in the US and Canada through her music and acting.

In 1969, she became the first artist ever to record an album with surround sound electronic vocals when she released Illuminations. The album is also one of the earliest recorded instances of using a Buchal synthesizer and the mix between folk music and electronica.

In 1975, the singer once again made history for teaching Aboriginal culture to children live on television with her five-year appearance on the American educational program for children, Sesame Street.

She also made the first-ever representation of breastfeeding on television history in a 1977 episode of the show, where she breastfed her firstborn child, Dakota "Cody" Starblanket Wolfchild.

In 1983, the singer wrote the song Up Where We Belong for the soundtrack of An Officer and a Gentleman, a romantic film directed by Taylor Hackford. The song won the Best Original Song award at the 1983 Golden Globes and Academy Awards, making her the first Aboriginal person to win the awards.

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Buffy Sainte-Marie's successes led to her being inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1995. In 1997, the singer won the Juno Award – Aboriginal Recording of the Year for the single Up Where We Belong.

She released her 14th studio album, Running for the Drum, in September 2008. The album, recorded in collaboration with singer-songwriter Taj Mahal, won the Aboriginal Album of the Year at the 2009 Juno Awards.

The last major record by Buffy Sainte-Marie was her 15th studio album, Power in the Blood, released on May 12, 2015. The album was critically acclaimed, winning several awards, including the Polaris Prize and the Aboriginal Album of the Year at the 2016 Juno Awards. The album also won the Contemporary Roots Album of the Year at the 2016 Juno Awards.

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Edited by Toshali Kritika