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Life Arts

Maverick Singer Songwriter Ellen Bukstel Takes On Private Prisons and Big Pharma

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Her Music Video "Who's the Pusher Now?" Skewers Drug War Hypocrisy

"Who's the Pusher Now?" goes after laws which unfairly target minorities and the private prison system as a whole that makes big bucks when it's filled with nonviolent drug users.

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Ellen behind bars in 'Who's the Pusher Now?' music video
(Image by Todd Segal and Robert Baldwin)
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My guest today is acclaimed singer and songwriter Ellen Bukstel. Welcome to OpEdNews, Ellen. You've been doing what you do for a long time. Would you care to tell us how you got started?

EB: Hello, Joan! I studied classical piano at a very young age and debuted with the Miami Symphonic Orchestra when I was 10. I quit piano when I got to high school, taught myself to play the guitar and discovered my voice! I came by it rightly since my mother was an opera singer.

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The Vietnam War was happening and, like so many young teenagers, I protested the war and started performing at anti-war rallies at school. I guess that was my earliest introduction to politics, activism and my awareness of the power of government as well as the tragedy and futility of war.

Ellen and brother Gary, Shack in the Back Stage
(Image by Robert Baldwin)
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One of the greatest joys and inspirations in my life was singing and performing with my younger brother, Gary. We had been a brother and sister duo since the late '60s, later forming a trio called Legacy, performing his songs. We still perform together occasionally.

I never thought about writing a song by myself until three decades later, when I co-wrote and recorded my first song called Another Place In Time [1994], with good friend and music producer C. Paul Hoyle. It was based on a poem I wrote called Legacy of Love for my husband, Doug Segal, who was dying from AIDS. Doug was a hemophiliac who contracted HIV in 1986 from his blood products. After suffering for two years, he died peacefully, lying next to me in our bed. He was 36 years old. I was suddenly widowed with three beautiful children: Brett, 6, Todd, 4, and Margo, 2.

Caring for Doug for two years, watching him deteriorate and die was a devastating loss that changed my life forever. And it woke me up!

Brett, Todd and Margo, then
(Image by Ellen's collection)
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JB: I bet. Tell us more, please.

EB: I became more acutely aware of some of the harsh realities in the world as well as my own mortality, strength and ability to care for someone who is suffering. Fortunately, through it all, our housekeeper, Theresa Henderson, continued to help me raise the kids for the next several years. Otherwise, I was on my own and it was hard.

It was thirteen years before I wrote my next song, this time, by myself, called Daddy's Little Girl when my father died from Alzheimer's. The floodgates opened after that. I began to write songs about my family and life experiences and discovered that I had a lot to say. Songwriting brought an opportunity to express my life and beliefs about injustices in the world. Though I have only been writing for a little over a decade and have a small catalog, the titles of my songs reflect my life and my passions.

JB: Even with your husband sick and dying, the two of you didn't back away from the fight. That must have been really difficult.

EB: Doug's older brother, Scott, was also born with severe hemophilia. They died within six months of each other. Scott died the day before Doug and I went to trial against the company that sold them the contaminated blood.

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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more...)

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