Episode 4: From the Sidelines
Many artists have used the power of music to bring marginalized voices to the mainstream.
Artists like Buffy Sainte Marie and Jeff Healey used the power of music to help bring the marginalized to the mainstream – new voices, rhythms and perspectives helped change how we understand each other.
AIRDATE: Dec. 6, 9 p.m.
Featuring: Buffy Sainte-Marie, Jeff Healey, Maestro Fresh Wes, Harry Belafonte, Duke Ellington, A Tribe Called Red, Farlex Flex, Ron Nelson, Joe Rockman
In 1966, Buffy Sainte-Marie was a Canadian icon on the rise and her music was bringing Indigenous rights and struggles into the spotlight. At the age of 26, she was introduced to Canadian Television audiences on CBC's Through the Eyes of Tomorrow. This rare footage of her performance seen in the clip above has been buried in the CBC vaults for over five decades. Her powerful words highlighted the plight of Indigenous communities at a time when it was rare to see an Indigenous person on television.
"Can you imagine a world where there's no hip-hop in the record stores?" asks legendary Toronto DJ Ron Nelson, describing the city's music scene in the 1980s. "There was hardly any black music on the radio."
South of the border, hip-hop culture was starting to hit the mainstream, with movies like Beat Street selling out cinemas and artists like Run-DMC topping the charts. In Toronto, outside of a few mobile DJ crews playing school dances and community halls, and a handful of MCs trying to get on any mic they could find, there was nothing.
Jeff Healey didn't fit the Canadian music industry's image of a recording artist.
Sure, there was the obvious reason why: Healey was blind, having lost his sight to ocular cancer has an infant. As a result, he learned to play the guitar by sitting it across his lap, positioned almost like a keyboard. But, according to the people who knew him best, that wasn't the major stumbling block for the industry. The problem was his hard-charging blues-rock style.
With his 1956 album Calypso, Harry Belafonte became the first single artist to get a million-selling LP. His decades-spanning career has proven him to be not only a mega-successful superstar entertainer but an activist and champion of human rights.
With his blend of Jamaican and American folk music, he created his own genre of music, says his daughter Gina Belafonte. "No one has been able to replicate that kind of unique sound and look and style and storytelling. "
Here's Buffy Sainte-Marie performing "Fancy Dancer," a never-recorded "disco powwow" song she wrote in the 1970s. This is the only known televised performance. It's been locked away in the CBC vaults for over 40 years.