ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Born with a platinum-plated last name, you would think Peter Buffett would exhale an unmeasurable air of white privilege.
But the Emmy Award-winning musician, author and son of billionaire investor Warren Buffett says the only real inheritance handed down from his parents was a philosophy: Find your own voice.
Buffett spoke and performed to a crowd of 300 at the University of New Mexico’s Keller Hall on Thursday as part of a “United for the Future” national tour of United Ways and their communities. Along the way, he touted a trio of virtues: compassion, connection and community.
Wearing a Highland High School T-shirt and jeans, Buffett performed songs on the piano with his rubber-faced cellist Michael Kott, who lives in Santa Fe.
He told stories of his life interspersed with original music, and pleas for the support of women and girls worldwide. He checked off the horrors of sex trafficking in Karachi and the injustices of a source-based economy where those who perform the jobs nobody else wants get paid the least.
Buffett attended Stanford University – he was quick to quip, “No money was exchanged!” – but didn’t find his path until he dropped out and moved to San Francisco to become a commercial composer.
“I had a Volkswagen Rabbit and ate a lot of Ramen,” he said.
He soon found himself writing 10 seconds of music for the then-fledgling MTV, a job that exploded with the cable channel’s success.
“Then I was cool by accident,” he said. But he remembered his father —— who had always loved the movie “The Glenn Miller Story” —— called him and asked him, “Peter, have you found the sound?” a quote from the film.
He realized he had been playing other people’s sounds.
By the mid-1980s, he signed with a New Age record company, hoping to garner the attention of film directors. He heard Kevin Costner was working on “Dances With Wolves” and, through an old college friend, sent a tape to the actor’s agent.
Costner liked what he heard and asked for more. Buffett ended up scoring the 1990 Academy Award-winning movie’s fire dance scene.
“By God, I was scoring my own life,” Buffett said. “This was the moment that scored my life forever.”
In the meantime, he had moved to Milwaukee because he missed the Midwest. (He had grown up in Omaha.)
A big-shot agent insisted Buffett move to Los Angeles, so he did. He lasted all of two weeks, rejecting the commercial future offered to him.
“I thought, ‘I am just finding my sound’,” he said. “That’s what my Dad did. He didn’t go to Wall Street. He stayed in Omaha. That’s possible when you find your roots in one place. This is one of my shout-outs to community.”
When Buffett’s mother died unexpectedly in 2004, his father created a billion-dollar foundation to be run by his three adult children.
“We knew the world was wildly out of balance,” he said. “A lot of that instability has to do with mostly white men. The first step was to support girls and women. If she has agency over her life, the children will benefit. It is a level of power and control and objectification that is beyond belief.”
At one point, Buffett and his wife visited the largest red-light district in India.
“When you lock eyes with a 12-year-old girl about to be sold, you are never the same,” he said.
“I’m not saying I have an answer,” he said. “I’m just trying to raise awareness.
“We can take care of each other,” he continued. “But first we need to remember that we bleed the same blood.”
Buffett is the chairman of the NoVo Foundation, an organization dedicated to catalyzing a transformation in global society, moving from a culture of domination to one of equality and partnership. Its mission includes advancing adolescent girls’ lives, ending violence against women and girls, advancing social and emotional learning, supporting thriving local communities and indigenous communities in North America.