The history of the 1960s folk-rock era swirls with the turmoil of short-lived groups, unexpected collaborations, and unrecognized influences. As an artist, an encouragement to other artists, and a source of lyrical inspiration for a few more, Judy Collins sails serenely as the eye of the folk-rock storm. You could pluck out many artists from that period and still have a coherent story, but Judy Collins, like Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell, forms much of the framework of the tale.
Hailing from Seattle, where she was born in 1939, Judy wound up in Denver for her teen years, where her father worked in radio. A childhood classical pianist, Collins settled on folk music as her recording medium and released A Maid of Constant Sorrow in 1961. She included old folk songs from England and Ireland in this album and her next one, The Golden Apples of the Sun, from 1962. The turning point in her material was on 1963's Judy Collins #3, where she recorded material by Bob Dylan, Shel Silverstein and Pete Seeger, whose 'Turn! Turn! Turn!' included guitar work by Roger McGuinn, who later turned the song into a #1 hit for his own group, the Byrds.
Now that she had mastered modern folk and was dabbling in the emerging protest-song movement, Judy Collins turned her sweet soprano to more elevated works as well. Her 1966 album, In My Life, covered the title tune from the Beatles, and she also sang songs by Leonard Cohen and Jacques Brel on this set. By broadening her range of sources for material, Collins set herself up for the next stage of her career, which led to several gold albums.
In 1967 she released Wildflowers, her first gold album (though In My Life eventually reached gold status). Her single from the album, 'Both Sides Now,' helped to cement Joni Mitchell's status as a songwriter and reached the Top Ten at the end of 1968. 'Both Sides Now' won the 1968 Grammy for Best Folk Performance. Now considered a classic of the era, this recording gave Judy Collins iconic status in the musical world outside of the folk artists in her circle. At this point, fans were buying tickets just to hear this song.
While she was hitting the Top 40 as a performer, Collins was also making the charts as a song subject. Stephen Stills of Crosby, Stills & Nash wrote 'Suite: Judy Blue Eyes' about Collins, and it charted for nine weeks in the summer of 1969. Enmeshed as she was in the entire folk circuit, it is not surprising that Collins would inspire a hit song. No other member of the community did so, however.
Her broad range of styles led to an unusual 1971 Top 40 hit when Collins performed 'Amazing Grace' at St. Paul's Chapel, Columbia University. She hit the Top 40 again in 1975 with 'Send in the Clowns,' a song strongly associated with Collins that came from the musical A Little Night Music by Stephen Sondheim. After three weeks in the Top 40 in the summer of 1975, the song returned to the charts for a stronger run in 1977.
Now, more aware than ever of the power her voice has to mesmerize audiences, Judy Collins performs all of the songs that built her unique status among female folk singers. If you have tickets to see her, you will cherish the time she spends with you.
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