Category Archives: Artist Heroes

Buffy Sainte-Marie: The Heroic Cree Musician

By Jesse Locke

Beverly “Buffy” Sainte-Marie is a Cree musician, visual artist, educator, and social activist. Beginning as a folk singer in the early 1960s with the politically-charged lyrics of songs such as her anti-war anthem “Universal Soldier,” Sainte-Marie released the groundbreaking electronic album Illuminations in 1969, and has continued to push creative boundaries throughout a career spanning seven decades. Her numerous accolades include winning the Polaris Music Prize for her 2015 album Power In The Blood, and becoming the first Indigenous person to win an Academy Award for her song “Up Where We Belong” from the 1982 film An Officer And A Gentleman.

Sainte-Marie was born on the Piapot First Nation reserve in the Qu’Apellle Valley of Saskatchewan, Canada. Her exact birth date is not recorded, but it is believed to be February 20th, 1941. At the age of two or three, Sainte-Marie was taken from her biological parents as part of the Canadian government policy of the ‘Sixties Scoop’ and adopted by Albert and Winifred Sainte-Marie, an American couple living in Wakefield, Massachusetts. Winifred identified as Mi’kmaq (Zoladz 2012) and encouraged her adopted daughter to reconnect with her own Indigenous ancestry. In 1964, Sainte-Marie returned to the Piapot reserve and was officially adopted by the man and woman believed to be her biological parents, Emile Piapot and Clara Starblanket. At that time, she was given the Cree name Medicine Bird Singing (Warner 2018a).

As a self-taught musician beginning at age three, Sainte-Marie’s early influences included international musicians such as French singer Édith Piaf and Spanish flamenco dancer Carmen Amaya (Warner 2018b), helping to establish the sound of her powerfully emotional vibrato singing style. Sainte-Marie studied Oriental Philosophy and Religion with a minor in Teaching at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, but interrupted her initial plans to work as an educator in India to pursue music full-time. Traveling to New York’s Greenwich Village folk music scene in the early 1960s, Sainte-Marie earned critical acclaim for her live performances and signed to Vanguard Records, launching her professional career as a musical artist.

Sainte-Marie has overcome countless challenges throughout her career, including being taken from her biological parents, suffering abuse from family members and romantic partners, and being blacklisted by radio stations under the direction of the U.S. government due to the political nature of her lyrics (Seymour 2018a). In a 1999 interview at Diné College, Sainte-Marie explained, “I found out ten years later, in the 1980s, that Lyndon Johnson had been writing letters on White House stationery praising radio stations for suppressing my music” (Norrell 1999). Despite these obstacles, by maintaining a message of hope in all aspects of her music, education, and activism, Sainte-Marie has persevered with a career that has earned her widespread acclaim. She has lived in Hawaii since the late 1960s.

Sainte-Marie has released 17 albums, beginning with her 1964 debut, It’s My Way! The album includes many of her best known songs such as “Universal Soldier,” “Cod’ine,” and “Now That The Buffalo’s Gone.” Her songs became known for their factual accuracy, with lyrics such as “he’s 5-foot-2 and he’s 6-foot-4” from “Universal Soldier” based on the height parameters for soldiers in the Vietnam War. (Seymour 2018b) Alongside setting herself apart from other folk artists of the 1960s with lyrical themes such as drug addiction, incest, and decolonization, the cover photo of It’s My Way! features Sainte-Marie performing with the mouthbow. Believed to be the oldest stringed instrument in the world (Sainte-Marie 1996), it features prominently on her first three albums.

Sainte-Marie continued to write and record prolifically throughout the 1960s, with her second album Many A Mile (1965) highlighted by the song “Until It’s Time For You To Go”, which has been frequently covered by other artists. On 1966’s Little Wheel Spin And Spin, Sainte-Marie released one of her most ambitious political protest songs, the nearly seven-minute “My Country ‘Tis Of Thy People You’re Dying,” which discusses Canadian residential schools and the genocidal violence perpetrated against Indigenous people. Fire & Fleet & Candlelight (1967) included her first experiments with electronic music, while 1968’s I’m Gonna Be A Country Girl Again, recorded in Nashville with country musician Chet Atkins, marked yet another stylistic departure.

On 1969’s Illuminations, the 28-year-old artist became even more experimental. Working with electronic musician Michael Czajkowski, the album’s songs were augmented with the Buchla Model 100 synthesizer, manipulating Sainte-Marie’s voice and guitar with a variety of effects that sound strikingly different from her folk singer origins. Illuminations begins by setting Leonard Cohen’s poem “God Is Alive, Magic Is Afoot” to music, before descending into a cycle of songs about the natural, spiritual, and metaphysical worlds. Though it failed to achieve commercial success at the time of its release, the album has become a critical favorite. The British experimental music magazine The Wire included Illuminations in their list 100 Albums That Set The World On Fire While No One Was Listening (Kopf 1998) and the album was celebrated with a 50th anniversary reissue in 2019.

By the end of the 1960s, Sainte-Marie’s music was well known thanks to cover versions of her songs, even if she was yet to become a household name herself. These include Donovan’s interpretation of “Universal Soldier”, and covers of “Co’dine” by Gram Parsons and Janis Joplin (adding her own modified lyrics), followed many years later by the alternative rock band Hole on their 2010 album, Nobody’s Daughter. “Until It’s Time for You to Go” is one of Sainte-Marie’s most covered songs, with 157 unique interpretations (Farber 2022a) from artists such as Elvis Presley, Barbara Streisand, Françoise Hardy, Cher, Neil Diamond, and The Monkees.

The 1970s were another busy decade for Sainte-Marie, beginning with her first collaboration with songwriter and producer Jack Nitsche on 1971’s She Used to Wanna Be a Ballerina. Its followup, 1972’s Moonshot, launched her working relationship with Nashville-based musician Norbert Putnam, who co-produced her next four albums. (Warner 2018c) Sainte-Marie concluded her contract with Vanguard Records with 1973’s Quiet Places, and signed to her new label MCA with 1974’s Buffy, featuring the glam-rock sound of “Sweet Little Vera” and the poetic, political lyrics of “Generation.” Sainte-Marie ended the decade with 1975’s Changing Woman and 1976’s Sweet America. The latter is highlighted by “Starwalker”, the first song in history to feature a sample of Indigenous powwow music. Sweet America also marked a 16-year hiatus from studio album releases while Sainte-Marie raised her son, Dakota “Cody” Starblanket Wolfchild.

Sainte-Marie has written songs for film soundtracks since her theme for 1970’s Soldier Blue, depicting the massacre of a Cheyenne village by Colorado State Militia. (Irwin 2009) Other soundtrack contributions include her songs “Dyed, Dead, Red” and “Hashishin” (the latter co-written with Ry Cooder) for 1970’s Performance, as well as scores for the 1984 short film Harold of Orange and the 1986 docudrama Stripper. Sainte-Marie is best known in this field for co-writing the song “Up Where We Belong” from the 1982 film An Officer And A Gentleman with her former husband Jack Nitzsche, becoming the first Indigenous person to win an Academy Award in 1983. Sainte-Marie has spoken openly about the abuse she suffered from Nitzsche during their seven-year relationship, including being injected with heroin in her sleep (Farber 2022b), before ending their marriage in 1989.

Sainte-Marie returned to music with her 1992 comeback album, Coincidences and Likely Stories, which made history as the first album made over the internet. Collaborating with UK-based co-producer Chris Birkett remotely from her home in Hawaii, Sainte-Marie sent electronic files with early Macintosh computers and the program CompuServe. (Frank 2022) Coincidences and Likely Stories also included a re-recorded version of “Starwalker”, using new electronic recording technology to improve the clarity of its powwow sample, and one of Sainte-Marie’s most acclaimed songs, “Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee”, which she spent 14 years to complete (Warner 2018d).

Sainte-Marie continued her collaboration with Birkett on 2008’s Running for the Drum, sampling traditional Indigenous music on the songs “No No Keshagesh”, “Cho Cho Fire”, and “Working for the Government.” The latter was reworked into a 2015 remix by electronic music group The Halluci Nation, featuring vocals from Sainte-Marie. Her 2015 album Power In The Blood looked even further backwards with a re-recorded version of the title track from Sainte-Marie’s 1964 debut, It’s My Way! Her most recent release is 2017’s Medicine Songs, a career-spanning compilation of Sainte-Marie’s activist songs, featuring a new collaboration with Inuk throat singer Tanya Tagaq on “You’ve Got To Run (Spirit of the Wind).”

Sainte-Marie established the Nihewan Foundation for Native American Education in 1969 to award Indigenous youth with scholarships to attend post-secondary schools. Two of her early scholarship recipients have become the presidents of tribal colleges. (Warner 2018e) She expanded this initiative in 1996 with the launch of the Cradleboard Teaching Project, an education curriculum providing an Indigenous-focused alternative to the typical Eurocentric lessons taught to children in North American classrooms. Tools included interactive CD-ROMs such as Science: Through Native American Eyes and innovative forms of online communication such as chat rooms and video conferencing. On the Cradleboard website, Sainte-Marie details the project’s accomplishments:

“In October of 1996, we received a two year grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation of Battle Creek, Michigan, and since that time have modeled the Cradleboard Teaching Project in Mohawk, Cree, Ojibwe, Menominee, Coeur d´Alene, Navajo, Quinnault, Hawaiian, and Apache communities in eleven states” (Sainte-Marie 2002).

In 1968, when she was cast on an episode of the television program The Virginian, Sainte-Marie took progressive action in the entertainment industry by successfully demanding that all other Indigenous roles in the show be cast with Indigenous people. (Humphrey 1968) Sainte-Marie appeared as a recurring character on Sesame Street from 1975 to 1981, where she continued to educate viewers on Cree culture and Indigenous representation. In 1977, she famously became the first person to breastfeed on television in a segment with her son Dakota “Cody” Starblanket Wolfchild (Sen 2018).

In more recent years, Sainte-Marie’s animated video series Paddling On Both Sides, a collaboration with visual artist Blake Angeconeb, was created for the Downie Wenjack Fund’s initiative Reconciliation Begins With You. Following in the footsteps of the Cradleboard Teaching Project, Paddling On Both Sides provides a positive alternative to the tragic narratives dominating media representation of Indigenous people by educating viewers on their many accomplishments and innovations. (Lawrence 2021) Sainte-Marie is also the author of several children’s books including 2020’s Hey Little Rockabye: A Lullaby for Pet Adoption, and 2022’s Tapwe and the Magic Hat.

Awards and Accolades

Sainte-Marie has earned countless awards and accolades throughout her career, beginning with Billboard Magazine naming her the Best New Artist of 1964. Three years later, Billboard writer Aaron Sternfield described Sainte-Marie as “the patron saint of non-hippy hipsters” after she received a 10-minute standing ovation during her performance at the Philharmonic (Warner 2016). Other honors include Sainte-Marie’s 1993 Charles De Gaulle Award for Best International Artist, the 2009 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Aboriginal People’s Choice Music Awards, and the 2010 Governor General’s Performing Arts Award. She was inducted into Canada’s Walk of Fame in 1999, the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame in 2009, and the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2019.

Sainte-Marie has received Honorary Doctorates from 15 post-secondary institutions, most recently recognized by the University of Toronto with a Doctor of Laws in 2019. She has also received numerous humanitarian honors, including her 1997 induction as an Officer into the Order of Canada, the 1998 Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Indian College Fund, and the 2019 PARO Centre for Women’s Enterprises Inaugural Women’s Voice Award. Sainte-Marie’s three most recent albums have received some of the highest honors from Canada’s creative arts awards, beginning with Running for the Drum winning the 2009 JUNO Award for Best Aboriginal Album. Her 2015 album Power in the Blood was awarded with the Polaris Music Prize, as well as JUNO Awards for Indigenous Music Album of the Year and Contemporary Root Album of the Year. Most recently, 2017’s Medicine Songs was also awarded with a JUNO Award for Indigenous Music Album of the Year. (Warner 2018e)

In 2021, Sainte-Marie was honored with a commemorative stamp from Canada Post, and became the subject of the feature-length documentary Buffy Sainte-Marie: Carry It On, which premiered at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival. (Longmire 2022) Now in her early 80s, she continues to advocate for the rights of Indigenous people, while recording, touring, and performing to fans around the world.


Farber, J. (2022) Buffy Sainte-Marie: ‘I didn’t know I was ahead of the pack at the time’ Retrived 15 Dec 2022.

Frank, A. (2022) How Buffy Sainte-Marie innovated electronic music in the 1960s Retrieved 15 Dec 2022.

Irwin, C. (2009) Buffy Sainte-Marie on a rollercoaster career that even the FBI kept an eye on Retrieved 15 Dec 2022.

Kopf, B. (1998) 100 Albums That Set The World On Fire While No One Was Listening Retrieved 9 Dec 2022.

Lawrence, M. (2021) Artist from Lac Seul First Nation making waves with new video collaboration Retrieved 15 Dec 2022.

Longmire, B. (2022) ‘Buffy Sainte-Marie: Carry It On’ To Premiere At TIFF 2022 Retrieved 16 Dec 2022.

Norrell, B. (1999) Uncensored: Buffy Sainte-Marie honored with lifetime achievement award Retrieved 16 Dec 2022.

Sainte-Marie, B. (1996) The Mouthbow: Making Music on a Weapon Retrieved 9 Dec 2022.

Sainte-Marie, B. (2002) Cradleboard History Retrieved 15 Dec 2022.

Sen, M. (2018) The short-lived normalization of breastfeeding on television Retrieved 16 Dec 2022.

Seymour, C. (2018) Iconic Protest Singer Buffy Sainte-Marie Has Been Blacklisted by Nixon, Sampled by Kanye, And Breastfed Her Baby on Sesame Street—for Starters Retrieved 15 Dec 2022.

Warner, A. (2016) Buffy Sainte-Marie: 75 things you need to know about the Canadian icon Retrieved 15 Dec 2022.

Warner, A. (2018) Buffy Sainte-Marie: The Authorized Biography. Canada: Greystone.

Zoladz, L. (2012) Illuminations: A Biography of Buffy Sainte-Marie
Retrieved 8 Dec 2022.

Bob Marley: A Spiritual and Revolutionary Hero through Music

Bob Marley, who still casts a large shadow on the reggae world 39 years after his death, would have turned 75 this week.

By Corinne Devaney

Celebrities are most looked up to as heroes because of their talent, but for Robert Nesta Marley, being one of the first music artists from a third world country to achieve international stardom was the least of his worries.

While other singers may worry about hitting the top charts, Marley introduced the world to the concept of Reggae and Rastafarianism from his own culture while fighting to free other countries that have lost their values due to British colonialism.

Marley was brought up in a crime ridden neighborhood of St. Anne, Jamaica from a Black mother and white father, who had abandoned him when he was young. His heroic transformation began when he was given the help of piano lessons at age ten and began following the Rastafarian religion, which includes elements of Christianity, Pan-Africanism, and anti-imperialism. These spiritual teachings gave him a sense of sociocentricity for his African heritage and Jamaica, which had been fighting for its independence his entire childhood.

Singing about love, peace, and Jamaican social justice, Marley became the “preacher of positivity” with powerful lyrics like, “One love, one heart . . . Let’s get together and feel all right.” When his popularity grew and he knew people were listening, he additionally made it his priority to fight for the rights of other colonized countries in Africa.

By extracting his lyrics from the speeches of political freedom fighters in Zimbabwe, South Africa, and Ethiopia, he brought African civil rights in the world’s center of attention. Marley’s message is revolutionary and motivational, but executed with an amiableness that I’d compare to Mahatma Gandhi.

By staying true to his spirituality, he developed self-awareness about the power of money and its ability to alter the freedom of his mind. Acting upon his thoughts, he dedicated the majority of his time and money to giving back to the country that raised him. Marley organized Jamaican community projects, investing in the schooling systems, and paying to support housing and food to over 6,000 people.

He strived to make his followers mindful of the dangers of fame in his lyrics, “Don’t gain the world and lose your soul, wisdom is better than silver or gold.”

Even having acquired great power and influence in his life, he was a consistently altruistic man that valued his spirituality and love over material possessions. Marley’s biggest setback of his later life was being shot in the breastbone and biceps after an assassination attempt in his hometown. Less than two weeks later he performed in the “Smile Jamaica” concert just a few towns over from where the attack on him had occurred.

The courageous act shows his unstoppable compassion for his country. The near-death experience actually gave him less fear in the face of death and brought him closer to his religion. Looking through his impactful lyrics, I came across a connection between his urge to perform his music and the shooting in one of my favorite songs, “Trenchtown Rock”.

“One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.” Unlike the pain of the bullet, music was a strong and peaceful influence over Marley that he believed he had to give to influence others. In fact, he loved giving his music to people so much that he refused medical help for his wounds and his condition worsened when he was diagnosed with melanoma on his world tour visiting the US. He believed the Rastafarian religion was the way for God to heal him and didn’t fear the risk of dying due to his unwavering faith.

When he was advised to have his toe amputated to stop the spread of the disease, he refused because in his religion it is considered a sin to remove part of one’s body, also called the “temple.” Although his life was short, ending at 36, he sure made it worth it. Growing up being the underdog of his small society, his humbling words have stretched across the globe.

I would consider Marley to be a martyr because he died creating music for others and refused to care for his own well-being. His inspiring acts of selflessness and resilience through every milestone of his life makes him my personal hero.

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Corinne Devaney is an  undergraduate student at the University of Richmond. She wrote this essay as part of her course requirement while enrolled in Dr. Scott Allison’s Heroes & Villains class.

The Queen’s Gambit Tells the Ultimate Underdog Hero Story

By Scott T. Allison

The Queen’s Gambit is one of those miniseries that shouldn’t work but somehow does. What could be less exciting than watching two people sit at a table silently playing a board game that most of us don’t really understand?

But here’s the secret to The Queen’s Gambit’s success:  It tells one hell of a hero’s story.

And as we’ve been saying for years, as long as a story captures the beauty and inspiration of the hero’s journey, and does so in a new and interesting way, it will find an audience.

Let’s start with our hero, Beth Harmon. We really shouldn’t like her. She’s cold, aloof, self-destructive.

Why are we drawn to this hero? Well, we all know that people love an underdog, and Beth is an underdog in five different ways. Maybe even six. It’s a bit sledgehammered, but it works.

First, Beth is a woman competing in a man’s world. Second, she’s not only an orphan, but a double-orphan. Third, she’s an addict. Fourth, because of the severity of her losses, she’s emotionally stunted. Fifth, she is poor.

We can also add that she is an American playing a game that is dominated by the Russians.

Like all good heroes, Beth has a superpower: She is a brilliant chess player, possessing more raw talent than anyone.

Beth also has a superpower within the superpower: She can mentally play out the winning moves of a chess game on the ceiling of any room she is in.

Like all good heroes, Beth has her kryptonite: She is hopelessly addicted to drugs and alcohol. Her pain cuts deep — hence her need to self-medicate with sedatives.

Beth thinks she can only win at chess when she’s drugged up. All good heroes are missing something important and must find these missing qualities to succeed. Beth lacks self-insight, self-regulation, and courage.

So the set-up of the story is clear. If only Beth can get out of her own way, she can rule the chess world. That’s a big “if”. Especially for a person who doesn’t attract friends easily.

The good news is that every hero receives help, even Beth. Her mentor is a janitor at the orphanage named Mr. Shaibel. Later Beth receives help from former competitors whom she has defeated: Townes, Harry, Benny, and the twins Matt and Mike.

On the eve of Beth’s match with the great Soviet champion Borgov, her childhood friend Jolene shows up. Beth benefited from Jolene’s stable, sensible influence years earlier and needs it now more than ever. Jolene offers to pay for Beth’s travel to Russia.

Returning to the orphanage to attend Mr. Shaibel’s funeral, Beth learns that her old mentor had followed her career closely and supported her from afar. This discovery reduces her to tears — her first show of emotion.

The ice has cracked. Beth is now fully human and ready to become her best self.

All good hero stories end with the hero returning home. The Queen’s Gambit portrays this return home in a wonderful and unique way. After defeating Borgov in Moscow, she mingles among a throng of Mr. Shaibel-like old men playing chess in a Russian park.

She has returned “home”, so to speak, only as poet T.S. Eliot once said, home is now completely different. The hero now sees home with a new set of eyes.

By playing chess with one of the Russian Mr. Shaibels, Beth is now giving back what was once given to her. Once transformed, the hero helps transform others. And as Joseph Campbell said, the hero is now in union with all the world.

Beth Harmon was a pawn who became a Queen. You rarely see a hero’s journey better than that.

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Jean Michel Basquiat: The Brilliant, Courageous Artist-as-Hero

homepage-imageBy Nelly Spigner

Art has saved lives. Whether it has been through writing, movies, or painting, many people have named art as a huge influence in their lives. So I always find it interesting that people don’t think of artists as heroes.

I might even go as far as saying that the art world is that of many unsung heroes. One such hero goes by the name of Jean Michel Basquiat. A well known name within the black community but not in the majority. So whats so great about a homeless graffiti artist from New York, who made it big time in the art world during the 80’s? Well, just about everything.

Basquiat was born to a Haitian-American father and a Puerto Rican mother in Brooklyn, New York. A self-taught artist, Basquiat first attracted attention for his graffiti in New York City in the late 70s, under the name “SAMO,” standing for ‘same old shit.” He was homeless for sometime but to make ends meet, he sold sweatshirts and postcards featuring his artwork on the streets of his native New York. Soon though, his work and style received critical acclaim for fusing of words, symbols, stick figures, among other things. People began paying as much as $50,000 for a Basquiat original.

His story sounds like the classic “rags to riches” script but there is so much more complexity to his tale. Basquiat was born during the aftershock of the civil rights movement, during the time black at was still considered “street art” and street art was considered to be the equivalent to nothing. Of course Basquiat knew this, but more importantly Basquiat felt this and still pursued his dreams because he was part of something bigger. This time period during the late 70’s and early 80’s was also referred to as the “Black Arts Era” a movement in which called for a crown.jpg!Large-2complete liberation from the chains of the past, all the while producing a culture they could be proud of.

So not only did Basquiat’s paintings make it from the streets to institutions, they also carried with them meaning for the black youths during that age and for many years to follow.

Basquiat once said, “The black person is the protagonist in most of my paintings. I realized that I didn’t see many paintings with black people in them.“ His work challenged the majority’s mindset but creating images that honored black men as kings and saints. With his signature recurring motif, the crown, he recognized the majesty of his black heroes including groundbreaking athletes, musicians and writers, all the while reminding other people of them and instilling pride in the black community.

Like many heroes, Basquiat had a fatal flaw, his drug abuse. Unfortunately, his life ended in his prime at the age of 27, in 1988. But even in his short lived life he made a giant impact, and that is heroic. He has a legacy shaped by his charisma, magnetism, and rebelliousness. He stood as an underdog who challenged assumptions, authorities, and agencies of the culture he was born into. He essentially said, I’m black hear me roar without having to say a word, and that message continues to resonate with people today. That’s why I deem Basquiat a hero. A  culturally queer hero for kings and queens who didn’t know they were royalty.

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Nelly Spigner is an undergraduate enrolled in Scott Allison’s Heroes and Villains First-Year Seminar at the University of Richmond. She composed this essay as part of her course requirement. Nelly and her classmates are contributing authors to the forthcoming book, Heroes of Richmond, Virginia: Four Centuries of Courage, Dignity, and Virtue.

Grace Kelly: A Friend Indeed

By Rick Hutchins

Movie stars and royalty are often considered heroes by those who find inspiration in their talent, perseverance, generosity and leadership. In those terms, Grace Patricia Kelly, who won an Academy Award at age twenty-four and became Her Serene Highness Princess Grace of Monaco at age twenty-six is twice a hero. However, the true heroism of this remarkable woman is both more personal and more profound.

In 1951, the Stork Club in New York City was a popular haunt of celebrities from both Hollywood and Washington. Grace Kelly, at that time, was a young actress of stage and television about to begin a career in film. As she dined with some friends and colleagues one night, she was witness to what was an all-too-common event in those days — a woman being refused service because of the color of her skin. That woman turned out to be Josephine Baker, an internationally famous singer and exotic dancer (herself a hero of WWII and the Civil Rights Movement), who, at that time, was a far bigger celebrity than Grace Kelly.

With no thought to the possible consequences to her own career, Kelly left her dinner, took Baker by the arm and departed for more welcoming pastures (to their credit, her companions followed suit). She vowed never to return to the Stork Club and she kept that promise. From that night onward, Grace Kelly and Josephine Baker were lifelong friends.

The next several years brought amazing changes for Kelly. She quickly became one of America’s most beloved actresses. In 1955, she headed the U.S. delegation to the Cannes Film Festival and there met Prince Rainier of Monaco. The prince knew a princess when he saw one and a few months later he made a reciprocal trip to the United States where he proposed marriage.

Josephine Baker’s fortunes, unfortunately, did not fare as well. Branded a communist by the HUAC, likely as a consequence of her charges of racism against the Stork Club, whose owner was a friend of J. Edgar Hoover, she was banned from the U.S.  Her luck went downhill from there, but her friend did not forget her. When her difficulties ultimately resulted in bankruptcy, Princess Grace gave her a villa for herself and the twelve multiethnic orphans she had adopted in better times, and offered financial support as well. In fact, Baker’s final show, a glowingly reviewed retrospective performance in Paris, given only days before her death, was financed (and attended by) the princess and her prince.

In 1982, Princess Grace suffered a stroke behind the wheel of her car; she died as a result of injuries suffered in the crash. Throughout her short life, she proved herself a true philanthropist, always using her fame and wealth and status to promote the betterment of mankind, work that still continues today through the Princess Grace Foundation. However, nothing exemplifies her heroic character more than that one selfless act of friendship to a stranger, in the days when that was all she had to offer.

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Rick Hutchins was born in Boston, MA, and has been an avid admirer of heroism since the groovy 60s. In his quest to live up to the heroic ideal of helping people, he has worked in the health care field for the past twenty-five years, in various capacities. He is also the author of Large In Time, a collection of poetry, The RH Factor, a collection of short stories, and is the creator of Trunkards. Links to galleries of his art, photography and animation can be found on

This is Hutchins’ sixth guest blog post here.  His first two, on astronaut and scientist Mae Jemison and the Fantastic Four’s Reed Richards, will appear in our new book Heroic Leadership: An Influence Taxonomy of 100 Exceptional Individuals.

Christopher Lee: Heroic Prince of Darkness

christopher_lee1By Rick Hutchins

On the silver screen, he was best known for portraying an evil that brought terror to the hearts of the innocent and the brave. For his artistry, he was knighted by Prince Charles of England.

In reality, in the darkest decade in living memory, he fought the greatest evil mankind has ever known.

Perhaps he was knighted for the wrong reason.

Sir Christopher Lee was born in 1922, his father a colonel of the King’s Royal Rifle Corps, whose service dated back to the Boer War, and his mother a descendent of Charlemagne, whose beauty was preserved in art and sculpture. His first acting role was at the age of six in a school play. He was never very good at academics or sports, but he excelled in the arts. All of this is common knowledge.

But some people have unknown depths. Some lives rival the adventures of Pulp fiction.

At the onset of the second World War, Lee volunteered for the Finnish forces, but did not see combat. Two years later, he volunteered for the Royal Air Force, but a medical condition prevented him from flying. Determined to serve, he then volunteered for RAF Intelligence and it was there that he truly flourished. After coming to the attention of his superior officers for his skill at decodinglee-dracula German ciphers (he was fluent in several languages), he was transferred to North Africa, where he served with the Long Range Desert Group. Here, he penetrated behind enemy lines, infiltrating Axis bases from Egypt to Benghazi to sabotage enemy aircraft and installations.

In addition to several near-death experiences while serving near the front lines, Lee was felled by malaria six times during the North African campaign, and returned to duty each time.

Following the Axis surrender in North Africa and the Allied invasion of Italy, Lee began Intelligence work for the Army. During this time, he served with the Gurkhas, suffering yet another brush with death, and took part in planning a potential assault on the Nazi’s Alpine Fortress. Lee was then returned to the Air Force, where he was promoted and posted to Air Force Headquarters to work with the Special Operations Executive, conducting espionage, sabotage, and reconnaissance missions in Occupied Europe.

When the war ended, Lee worked with the Central Registry of War Criminals, tracking down Nazi fugitives and turning them over to the authorities for interrogation and indictment. He duties brought him several times to Nazi concentration camps, where he witnessed the aftermath of the Holocaust firsthand.

Flight Lieutenant Christopher Lee retired from active duty in 1946. This is the bare bones of what we know of his activities in the second World War. His full service record remains classified to this day.

Lee was decorated for his heroism in wartime by Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Poland, and Great Britain. He was appointed a Commander of the Venerable Order of St. John. He was knighted for his services to charity. These, of course, are in addition to the many well-deserved honors he received for his inimitable work in film.

On screen, he portrayed the darkest of villains; on the stage of life, he was truly the noblest of heroes.

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Rick Hutchins was born in Boston, MA, and has been an avid admirer of heroism since the groovy 60s. In his quest to live up to the heroic ideal of helping people, he has worked in the health care field for the past twenty-five years, in various capacities. He is also the author of Large In Time, a collection of poetry, The RH Factor, a collection of short stories, and is the creator of Trunkards. Links to galleries of his art, photography and animation can be found on

This is Hutchins’ eleventh guest blog post here.  His first two, on astronaut and scientist Mae Jemison and the Fantastic Four’s Reed Richards, can be found in our book Heroic Leadership.