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Thursday, August 10, 2006

Buffy Sainte-Marie: Censored in the 60s?

The most famous Native American musician of my generation and a bit older is Buffy Sainte-Marie, singer and songwriter who was never afraid to be political. She had numerous songs about peace and about Indian rights. In the early 80s, I actually got to interview her at some length for a long profile that was published in a computer magazine (the focus of the story was the many unique ways she used her Macintosh.)

Now an article posted on the Indian Country website alleges that she was the target of a campaign of deliberate suppression by the US government. That in fact, there was a widespread campaign to suppress political rock music during the years of Democrat Lyndon Johnson's presidency--and this campaign went so far as to at least consider assassination attempts.

Sainte-Marie says she was blacklisted and, along with other American Indians in the Red Power movements, was put out of business in the 1970s.

''I found out 10 years later, in the 1980s, that [President] Lyndon Johnson had been writing letters on White House stationary praising radio stations for suppressing my music,'' Sainte-Marie said in a 1999 interview with Indian Country Today at Dine' College...

In the United States, her records were disappearing. Thousands of people at concerts wanted records. Although the distributor said the records had been shipped, no one seemed to know where they were. One thing was for sure: They were not on record store shelves.

''I was put out of business in the United States.''

Sainte-Marie is someone who I don't believe would make this accusation unless she truly believed it--she has always struck me as a person of great integrity. But she's got her dates wrong. "Universal Soldier" was first recorded in 1964; Johnson, known as a strong-arm kind of a guy from his days as a leader in the Senate, was President from 1964 to 1969--a time when protest music and counterculture music filled the airwaves. While it wouldn't be entirely out of character for him, this kind of action seems a bit of a stretch. Richard Nixon (of whom these accusations could more easily be believed) was president from 1969-74.

The Indian Country article focuses on a court suit by one Charles August Schlund III, who

...stated he is a covert operative and supports Sainte-Marie's assertions that the United States took action to suppress rock music because of its role in rallying opposition to the Vietnam War.

However, Schlund has not established credibility in my mind, and comes across in this article as pretty flaky. He sees a vast conspiracy to replace rock with the (often politically conservative) country music genre, orchestrated by the Rockefellers in order to control the natural resources of Vietnam.


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