Sunday, July 04, 2021

Sweet America

In acknowledging the significance of the Fourth of July here in the U.S., I share Buffy Sainte-Marie’s recording of songwriter Barry Greenfield’s “Sweet America.”

“Sweet America” is the title-track of the album Buffy recorded in 1976, one which she co-produced with Henry Lewy. Apart from this and another track by Greenfield (“Free the Lady”), the remaining 14 songs on the album were written by Buffy. (Greenberg had previously recorded both “Sweet America” and “Free the Lady” for his 1973 album, Blue Sky.)

Buffy’s rendition of “Sweet America” was first issued on CD by the British Big Beat label, on a 2-CD collection that included all three of Buffy's mid-1970s albums – Buffy (1974), Changing Woman (1975), and Sweet America (1976). The tracks of all three albums have been subseqently re-released by Buffy’s own label, Gypsy Boy Music, on a similarly packaged 2-CD collection entitled The Pathfinder – Buried Treasures: The Mid-70s Recordings.

The song “Sweet America” is no sentimental tribute to the U.S., but rather a thoughtful reflection that’s part lament, part critique of the socio-political and environmental state of the country; the latter being gut-wrenchingly conveyed by the line: “I love California, but I’m watching her die.”

Writes Ken Hunt about Buffy’s 1976 album, Sweet America:

Sweet America, originally released on ABC Records, got a rough deal from some critics. Unfairly. “One of her weakest albums,” was Irwin and Lyndon Stambler’s opinion in Folk & Blues – The Encyclopedia (2001), but the judgement that presides over opinion is that Sweet America reveals a woman in charge with, by turns, a knowing sense of sensuality and sexuality, political engagement, and still cleaving to the themes that raised her above the folksinger morass.

. . . Sweet America would be her last recording flourish until the release of Coincidence and Likely Stories in 1992, which broke her self-imposed embargo on recording. [At that time] she told the London-based singer-songwriter Robb Johnson in an interview for Rock & Reel that she “quit recording when my son was born 15 years ago.”

Not that motherhood ever stopped her writing and making music. She was still writing the chapters of her life. She became a stalwart on Sesame Street after Sweet America, and that long-running series enabled her to introduce the English-speaking world to Native American issues, as she would also do in Perry Como’s television special Christmas in New Mexico in 1979 – in which she sang "Star Walker," duetted with Como on "Until It’s Time For You to Go," and played mouth bow, an instrument that Patrick Sky had introduced her to. She composed for films, notable ones such as An Officer and a Gentleman (1982), Starman (1984), The Jewel of the Nile (1985), and 9 1/2 Weeks (1986).

In should be noted that for her contribution to An Officer and a Gentelman, the song “Up Where We Belong,” which she co-wrote with Jack Nitzsche and Will Jennings, Buffy won an Ocsar in 1983, becoming the first Indigenous person to do so.

For The Wild Reed’s special series of posts leading-up to the November 10, 2017 release of Medicine Songs, see:
For Acclaimed Songwriter, Activist and Humanitarian Buffy Sainte-Marie, the World is Always Ripening
Buffy Sainte-Marie: “I’m Creative Anywhere”
Buffy Sainte-Marie Headlines SummerStage Festival in NYC’s Central Park
Buffy Sainte-Marie, “One of the Best Performers Out Touring Today”
The Music of Buffy Sainte-Marie: “Uprooting the Sources of Disenfranchisement”
Buffy Sainte-Marie: “Things Do Change and Things Do Get Better”
Buffy Sainte-Marie’s Medicine Songs

For The Wild Reed’s special series of posts leading-up to the May 12, 2015 release of Buffy’s award-winning album, Power in the Blood, see:
Buffy Sainte-Marie and That “Human-Being Magic”
Buffy Sainte-Marie’s Lesson from the Cutting Edge: “Go Where You Must to Grow”
Buffy Sainte-Marie: “Sometimes You Have to Be Content to Plant Good Seeds and Be Patient”
Buffy Sainte-Marie’s Power in the Blood

For more of Buffy Sainte-Marie at The Wild Reed, see:
Buffy Sainte-Marie's “America the Beautiful”
A Music Legend Visits the North Country: Buffy Sainte-Marie in Minnesota and Wisconsin – August 2016
Carrying It On . . . Into the New Year
Two Exceptional Singers Take a Chance on the “Spirit of the Wind”
Photo of the Day – January 21, 2017
Buffy Sainte-Marie Wins 2015 Polaris Music Prize
Congratulations, Buffy
Happy Birthday, Buffy! (2016)
Happy Birthday, Buffy! (2018)
Happy Birthday, Buffy! (2019)
Happy Birthday, Buffy! (2020)
Happy Birthday, Buffy! (2021)
Actually, There’s No Question About It
For Buffy Sainte-Marie, a Well-Deserved Honor
Buffy Sainte-Marie: Singing It and Praying It; Living It and Saying It
Buffy Sainte-Marie: Still Singing with Spirit, Joy, and Passion
Something Special for Indigenous Peoples Day
Buffy Sainte-Marie: “The Big Ones Get Away”

Related Off-site Links:
Iconic Canadian Singer-Songwriter Buffy Sainte-Marie Reminisces On An Eventful Eight Decades – Brad Wheeler (The Globe and Mail, February 19, 2021).
For Decades, Buffy Sainte-Marie Has Had to Navigate Systemic Barriers to Cultivate Her Art – Andrea Warner (The Globe and Mail, February 18, 2021).
Buffy Sainte-Marie: Truth, Justice, and Buffy’s Way – Benito Vila (, February 17, 2021)
Buffy Sainte-Marie Discusses What We Weren’t Ready For In 1988 – Glenn Sumi and Daryl Jung (Now, February 15, 2021).
Buffy the Truth Sayer: An Interview with Buffy Sainte-Marie – Mandy Nolan (The Echo, February 13, 2020).
Buffy Sainte-Marie Named As the Recipient of the Allan Slaight Humanitarian Spirit Award – Ian Courtney (Encore, February 14, 2020).
Buffy Sainte-Marie’s Authorized Biography Serves As a “Map Of Hope” – Scott Simon and Ian Stewart (NPR News, September 29, 2018).
Buffy Sainte-Marie Tells Her Life Story, Her Way – Sue Carter (The Star, September 29, 2018)
Buffy Sainte-Marie: “I Constantly Ask Myself, Where Are the Great Protest Songs of Today?”Regina Leader-Post, (February 6, 2018).
Music as Medicine: Buffy Sainte-Marie Talks Politics, Sex Scandals and Her Brand New Album – Rosanna Deerchild (CBC Radio’s Unreserved, November 19, 2017)
Buffy Sainte-Marie Takes a Stand with Medicine SongsET Canada (November 30, 2017).
Buffy Sainte-Marie Makes Music for a New Generation of Activists – Tom Power (CBC Radio, November 17, 2017).
The Unbreakable Buffy Sainte-Marie: A Candid Conversation with the Resilient Songwriter and Activist – Whitney Phaneuf (Acoustic Guitar, January 18, 2017).
What Does Buffy Sainte-Marie Believe? – CBC Radio (December 30, 2016).

Opening image: Photographer unknown.

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