Buffy Sainte-Marie Critical Essays


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Buffy Sainte-Marie 1941–

American Indian songwriter, singer, and musician.

Sainte-Marie is best known for her songs about the plight of the American Indian. She has not restricted her songwriting only to this category, however. Moving through many different genres, she has adapted traditional songs and written very personal lyrics. She has also experimented with orchestras and avant-garde electronics. Her work can be identified by her highly distinctive voice, which she uses more as an instrument of personal expression than merely as a device for carrying a tune.

Sainte-Marie first began singing professionally in the early sixties while a student at the University of Massachusetts. Her unique voice and highly original songs attracted a good deal of attention. Among her best-known early songs are "Now That the Buffalo's Gone" and "My Country 'Tis of Thy People You're Dying," songs about the dilemma of the Indian; "Cod'ine," an indictment of drugs; and "Universal Soldier," a topical song about war.

Sainte-Marie's most popular song, however, is "Until It's Time for You to Go." This widely-recorded song is a tender, mature look at love and changing social mores. It is typical of her more recent work, which is easily accessible but has received less critical praise than her earlier work.

Sainte-Marie's career is characterized by the innovations in her music. She has recorded country and rock albums, and has gone from performing as a solo artist to leading a rock-oriented group. She admits that not all of her experiments have been successful, yet most critics agree that her best work is provocative and insightful.

Buffy Sainte-Marie, a new name on the folk scene, may soon be a major one when the full impact of this young and vibrant Cree Indian girl registers via her upcoming debut album….

What makes Miss Sainte-Marie particularly individualistic lies in her unique status as a female troubadour who performs her own original compositions. Some of her songs are raw and powerful, some are loud and driving, others are just as effectively quiet. But each and every one is her own and all are stamped with her intensely personal involvement with the world in which she and her auditors live and she sings them with deep and passionate conviction.

"New Acts," in Variety (copyright 1963, by Variety, Inc.), December 18, 1963, p. 50.