If it's true that one's life is one's work of art, then Joan Baez is a masterpiece in both respects. Gifted with one of the purest and most powerful sopranos of the last century, Joan sings in support of her profound belief in human rights and nonviolent solutions to world problems. From the songs she chooses - of struggle with the forces of oppression, to the organizations she founded, such as Humanitas International - her life and musical career are inextricably entwined.
Her story incorporates world leaders and great events. With Joan singing by his side in the March on Washington, Martin Luther King adopted 'We Shall Overcome' as anthem. President Jimmy Carter authorized the famed rescue of Vietnamese boat people at her request. France's Premier Mitterand awarded her his country's highest medal of honor for her peace efforts, she received the ACLU Earl Warren Award for Human and Civil Rights Issues, and Cesar Chavez counted her as friend. Who could imagine that a barefoot, straggly-haired hippie girl would impact events on an international level?
Joan Baez was born in 1941 on Staten Island, her father a physicist who took a position in a Baghdad university when Joan was 10. She remembers a place of appalling poverty. In the States at age 14, she picked up a ukulele for a school talent school and joined the choir. She attended Boston University but dropped out when singing in coffee houses appealed more. At the 1959 Newport Folk Festival, she sang for an audience of 13,000 - and was 'discovered.' She was signed by Vanguard record label which produced her first album, Joan Baez 1960. In 1961, she met an odd-looking singer-songwriter in a Greenwich Village place called Gerde's. Thus began the famous touring and romantic partnership with Bob Dylan. They sang 'With God on Our Side' together at the Monterey and Newport Folk Festivals that year, reigning as King and Queen of Folk Music. Though the romance only lasted months, Joan made more Dylan songs famous than he did, such as 'Don't Think Twice, It's Allright.' Years later they made history again with Dylan's Rolling Thunder Revue.
In 1965, Joan co-founded the Institute for the Study of Nonviolence, and in 1968 she married Vietnam protester David Harris. Joan herself had been jailed twice, both of short duration. Harris, however, was incarcerated for years - most of their marriage. They had one son together, Gabriel, but divorced in the mid-1970s.
Joan's early career emphasized historical folk ballads, those giving way to political songs of protest. Her singles were rarely Top Twenty, with 'The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down' as the exception. Her albums, however, were pure gold, such as Joan Baez in Concert and Joan Baez in Concert, Part 2, Farewell Angelina, Diamonds & Rust, and compilations such as Rare, Live & Classic. Not content to live on past glories, Joan evolved, her music taking on country and other elements. In 1995, her recording with Mary Chapin Carpenter and the Indigo Girls, 'Ring Them Bells', caused waves. As the great interpreter of songs that she is, Joan Baez currently sings material from today's young writers, such as Natalie Merchant.
The stunning voice with the natural vibrato is still there, and she still labors in the cause of peace. And she always will be The Queen of Folk Music.
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