Janis Ian

  • Folk musician, singer, songwriter born Janis Fink in 1951, in New York City, and raised in New Jersey.
  • She started piano lessons at the age of 2, and 10 years later, she was playing organ, harmonica, guitar and french horn. She was influenced by the early folk singers of the 50s and 60s, and at 12, she wrote her first song. She legally changed her name when she was 13 to Ian, which was the middle name of her brother.
  • At 14, she wrote and recorded Society’s Child. The song is about interracial romance – a taboo topic in that day. It was released 3 times between 1965 and 1967. Composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein saw her perform it at The Gaslight Cafe in Greenwich Village, and he asked Ian to perform it for his TV special Inside Pop. After that performance, it became a hit, peaking at #14 on the Billboard Hot 100. It would have sold more, but the song was banned in some cities due to its controversial topic. The song was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2001.
  • Her debut album, Janis Ian, was released in 1967. It contained Society’s Child, as well as the song that she wrote when she was 12, Hair of Spun Gold. At 16 years old, her album made it to #29 on the Billboard 200 album chart.
  • Ian released 5 more albums between 1967 and 1974 – they were not successful, with only 2 singles charting, and neither breaking into the Hot 100. In 1975, she finally had her second hit, At Seventeen. The song was released on her album Between The Lines. The song is a reflection about teenage angst and adolescent cruelty from the point of view of an adult that lived these issues when she was a teen. Ian felt the best way to gain exposure for the song was to promote it to women, so she performed it on daytime talk shows for 6 months. Finally, she was invited to perform it on The Tonight Show, and afterwards it took off. The song peaked at #3 on the Hot 100 chart, and won the Grammy award that year for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance. The album also hit #1, and it was her only platinum album.
  • Ian was a musical guest on the very first episode of Saturday Night Live, in 1975, performing At Seventeen and In The Winter.
  • Ian would have only 1 more single chart in the Hot 100 – a song in 1981 called Under The Covers peaked at #71. Her follow-up album to Between The Lines, a record called Aftertones, made it to #12 in 1976, and it topped the Japanese music chart, with the single Love Is Blind a #1 song in Japan for 6 months.
  • Another song of note by Ian was Fly Too High, released in 1979. It was written for the soundtrack to the film Foxes, and it became a #1 song in several countries (Australia, Israel, Belgium and others), though it didn’t chart in the U.S. The song is not what lovers of folk music wanted to her – it was co-written and produced by disco producer Georgio Moroder.
  • Ian continued to write and release music. She has released 22 studio albums – her most recent album, Strictly Solo, was released in 2014, and was only available at her live shows.
  • Ian is a writer. She published an autobiography in 2008, and she has several science fiction short stories that have been published.
  • Ian continues to perform a limited number of concerts a year. She also performs Living Room Concerts, which are private performances in your living room for a donation to her charity, the Pearl Foundation, named after Ian’s mother Pearl. After learning that she had multiple sclerosis, Pearl went to college to earn a degree – it was her lifelong dream. After her death, Ian began a scholarship endowment for older people returning to college – to date, it has provided over $1 million in scholarships to people.
  • Her 2 big hits were songs that I remember well as a youth. Here is a performance of At Seventeen in all her folk music glory!

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