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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, October 16, 2009

Buffy Sainte-Marie talks about life, her new CD

Advertiser Staff

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Buffy Sainte-Marie, now in her 45th year as an entertainer, has been concertizing heavily in Canada and Europe and is on track to perform in Japan and Down Under.

Jeremy Chan

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Born : Feb. 20, 1941, on the Piapot Cree Indian reservation, Saskat-chewan; orphaned but adopted by Albert and Winifred Sainte-Marie; grew up in Maine.

Why you know her: Co-wrote with Will Jennings and Jack Nitzsche "Up Where We Belong," performed by Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes for "An Officer and a Gentleman," which won the best song Oscar in 1982.

Her Island ties: Married surfing teacher Dewain Bugbee of Hawaii in 1968; divorced in 1971; lives on Kauai ; had a relationship since 1993 with localite Chuck Wilson.

Family: Has son, Dakota "Cody" Starblanket Wolfchild, with Sheldon Wolfchild, a former husband from Minnesota.

Little-known fact: "Until It's Time for You to Go," one of her compositions, has been covered by a diverse lot; Neil Diamond, Elvis Presley, Barbra Streisand, Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops, Cher, Roberta Flack, Bobby Darin.

Missions accomplished: Wrote "Universal Soldier" in 1964 in support of wounded soldiers returning from Vietnam who were snubbed by the government, a hit for singer Donovan in the folk-music era; active supporter of the Baha'i faith; Native American social activist; visual and digital artist and educator.

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Buffy Sainte-Marie, the Native American singer-songwriter and Academy Award winner, lives a quiet life of anonymity and privacy in a mountainous Kaua'i retreat that has been her piece of paradise for decades.

She farms, she tends to goats and crops, but most of all, she's happy. Very happy.

"I've lived under an assumed name, way in the mountains, raising my son, who's now 30," she said. "I'm on the road a lot just back from Europe, Norway, England, Canada," she said of her summer sojourn "but this is home."

The Garden Isle's reliable weather was a factor in her dropping anchor here but she also lived through the menace of the hurricanes. "Everyone lost their roofs; it was radical," she said.

"When I was living in Canada, we got blizzards so often, flights were threatened," said Sainte-Marie. "When you have to work, you can't not show up. I was aware that I couldn't continue to live there."

During one O'ahu working trip, she came, she saw, she was conquered.

"The beauty of the nature in the mountains that's the ideal of peace and quiet," said Sainte-Marie. "I saw my place and I set my roots here, partly because of the reliable weather. The world is round, so it doesn't matter where you begin your travels; what matters is coming home and mine is here."

Well, she didn't really say Kaua'i. She said "an undisclosed island," but it has been commonly known that the composer of such hit songs as Donovan's "Universal Soldier" chart-topper and the Oscar-winning "Up Where We Belong," has been a Garden Island resident for more than three decades. Specifically where, perhaps a few may know; but sightings are practically nonexistent. As a celeb, she's not on the radar.

"I'm single and anonymous it's a blessing in my life, having it both ways. I love show biz, but how stuck up can you get when you give a pedicure to a goat? And clean the litter box?

"I appreciate fame, but the real deal for me here is simple: I look at the stars, the trees, my 27 goats, my kitty cat, my retired horse."

There's a lilt in her voice: "Anonymity is a precious thing; I love being famous, but I love anonymity more. It's not a matter of popularity; fame like Madonna's mean you're not going to just walk down the street. In Hawaii, it's all about nature and quiet ... anonymity at its best."

She farms and advocates a green environment. "I raise crops; I have citrus, tropicals, a variety of fruits and veggies," said Sainte-Marie. "And I give away Christmas trees, little ones and big ones. The very tall Norfolks go to woodturners of Kaua'i, who use the wood for art projects for bowls and platters. Could be some folks have wooden bowls that were from my trees."

Saint-Marie came out of the shadows this year marks her 45th year as an entertainer mostly to talk up her newest project, "Running for the Drum," her first CD in 13 years, which also boasts a DVD of "A Multimedia Life," a documentary by Joan Prowse, which also includes interviews with Joni Mitchell, Robbie Robertson, Randy Bachman and Bill Cosby.

"Reviews have been spectacular; these days, I do a lot of concerts in Canada, Europe, seldom in the U.S. Next year, it's Japan and Down Under. But having had a career as a teacher, I do speeches, talks at convocations, and I'm a big fan of libraries, which are having a hard time. There's always something to work for."

She loves the multicultural population and arts life here. "Honolulu is world- class," she said. "I visit a big city one day, an indigenous community the next. Ha-waii does it perfectly and naturally."

Not that she approves of the widespread development everywhere. "Indigenous people are finding themselves displaced," said Sainte-Marie. "In one of my songs, 'No No Keshagesh' (it means greedy guts, like a pup chowing and hungering for more), I'm talking about environmental greed from the point of the indigenous people. The world is getting smaller and more toxic, and we're on the front line of environmental issues. You used to drive along the highways, whether Indian or Maori or Hawaii, and there would be open space. Bulldozers have changed everything; we need to protect Mother Earth."

Sainte-Marie is a product of the 1960s and says it was a fun time. "I was way ahead of the crowd; I looked at the '60s as a toy; it was all about play, not work.

"I was lucky at the beginning; coffee as the drug of students ruled. The music was diverse; I'd hear Gabby (Pahinui), flamenco, English folk songs, delta blues. The record industry was more conventional, but they came up with genres. Now, it's all about the Internet, genres, variety and that works for me. But now, nobody knows where to find the record store."

She's gravitated to technology, with musical scoring in the 1970s using electronics, "and I've never been intimidated by the computer. I had a Mac before it hit the streets, and had electronic digital paintings in the 1980s and '90s that people now understand. I'm a low-maintenance girl; I know how to take care of myself."