Friday, 21 November 2014

Buffy Sainte-Marie reflects on time with Sesame Street

Sesame Street celebrates 45th anniversary

Article by Karin Yeske for

An internationally-acclaimed musician born on the Piapot First Nation in Saskatchewan is reflecting on her time with Sesame Street as the show celebrates its 45th season.

Buffy Sainte-Marie received a call from Sesame Street in 1975 after writing "Universal Soldier" during the peace movement of the sixties. Sainte-Marie was asked to recite the alphabet and count numbers like other celebrities such as Stevie Wonder had previously done on the show.

“I wasn’t interested because I was travelling so much internationally. I asked them before we hung up whether they had ever done any Native American programming and they said ‘no’ and a couple hours later they called me back,” Sainte-Marie recalled in a phone interview from her home in Hawaii.

Sainte-Marie was a regular on the show from 1976-1981, touching on topics such as sibling rivalry, breastfeeding, music, and First Nations culture. During her stint on the show, she said Sesame Street was always open to her ideas but also presented her with topics she wanted to cover.

“They never stereotyped me. They never treated me as just a token decoration on the show. We did real programming,” she said, adding breastfeeding her son Cody was her idea.

“At the time, breastfeeding was totally overwhelmed by the formula companies so that young mothers recovering from childbirth, they would have a big basket of formula. The doctors didn’t understand how to teach them how to breastfeed,” she said.

At the time, Sesame Street was shown three times a day in 73 countries of the world, Sainte-Marie said. Today, Sesame Street has reached over 82 million kids.

“I think everyone can appreciate the shows that they came out with because they are truly child centred.”

Since appearing on Sesame Street, Sainte-Marie went on to receive an Academy Award in 1982 for her song “Up Where We Belong” from the movie An Officer and a Gentleman. “Until It’s Time for You to Go” has been recorded by music legends Elvis Presley, Barbra Streisand and Cher.

Education and play has always been important to Sainte-Marie, who holds a teaching degree and a Ph.D in Fine Arts. When she was just three years old, she remembers playing a piano for the first time.

“I taught myself to play because it was so much fun,” she said, adding a number of years ago she found out she was dyslexic in music. Sainte-Marie cannot read sheet music but said she has a helicopter view of the music and has a feeling about the song, start to end, that is not linear.

Sainte-Marie is proud to support the Idle No More movement, which started at the grassroots level in Saskatchewan. Known for being an outspoken performer about Native issues and peace but unbeknown to her at the time, Sainte-Marie’s music was actually downplayed in the U.S. during the Lyndon Johnson era.

“The problem is not always the same but everybody should be keeping an eye on how things can be better in their own communities and not being afraid to come together spontaneously,” she said of the Idle No More movement.

Sainte-Marie is currently putting a new band together to start rehearsing in January before her new album comes out in May.

“Music is really important to me. Some of it is important to my practical life and some of it is important to my heart. The heart part goes on day and night, just like dreams and has from the time I was three,” she said.

Sainte-Marie said message of inspiration is encapsulated in a song she wrote called Jeremiah.

“Some will tell you what you really want ain’t on the menu. Don’t believe them. Cook it up yourself and then prepare to serve them,” she said.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What was the name of the song that contains the lyrics "red, white and blue"? I'm pretty sure you performed in on "Sesame Street."