Joan Baez

  • Singer, songwriter, musician and tireless activist born on Staten Island New York in 1941.
  • Baez’s father worked with UNESCO, the agency within the United Nations that promotes international collaboration through education, science and cultural reforms. As such, they moved often, living throughout the U.S., Europe, Canada and the Middle East. At the age of 13, she saw a performance by Pete Seeger, and she fell in love with folk music. In 1958, her father accepted a position at MIT, and the family moved to Massachusetts. She began to perform, giving her first concert at a folk music club in Cambridge – there were 8 people attending, including her parents, sister and boyfriend. In 1959, she made an album with 2 other folk artists, and the album, Folksingers ‘Round Harvard Square, became her debut effort. Soon after, she met performers Bob Gibson and Odetta. Gibson invited her to sing 2 duets with him at the 1959 Newport Folk Festival – the exposure led to Baez signing a recording contract.
  • From 1960 to 1965, she released 4 studio albums and 3 live albums, performing traditional folk songs, and newer songs written by Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs and others. These albums sold well, generally charting in the top 20 of the Billboard album chart, although singles from the albums were not big sellers. During this time, she became “the queen of folk,” a key part of the roots revival, as well as one of the earliest artists to introduce the songs of Dylan to the world.
  • Baez experimented with different music styles during the back half of the 60s. She used classical orchestration for 3 albums, including one that featured Baez reading poetry. Her 1968 album Any Day Now contained all Dylan cover songs. In 1969, she performed at Woodstock, which increased her exposure internationally.
  • She was one of the first musicians to use her popularity as a means of social and political activism. She was deeply involved in the civil rights movement. She performed We Shall Overcome at the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, and in 1965 she participated in the Selma to Montgomery marches for voting rights. She frequently participated in anti-war marches, and in 1967 she was twice arrested and spent over a month in jail.
  • Her 2 most successful albums in the 70s were Blessed Are… in 1972 and Diamonds & Rust in 1975. Blessed Are… included her best selling single, a cover of The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down – it reached #3 on the Hot 100 and #1 on the Easy Listening chart (now known as Adult Contemporary chart). It also included a cover of The Beatles’ Let It Be that reached #5 on the Easy Listening chart. The title track to Diamonds & Rust was written by Baez, and it was her last charting song, reaching #35 on the Hot 100 and #5 on the Easy Listening chart.
  • She continued to release new music, but at a slower pace – 3 albums in the late 80s, 3 in the 90s, 2 in the 00s, and her most recent album in 2018 – her first in 10 years. She indicated that 2018 will be her last year to tour. She has not slowed her pace at all from an activism standpoint. She used her fame to promote her position on causes, from human rights, to opposition to the death penalty, to LGBT rights, to environmental issues, to protesting the War in Iraq, to Occupy Wall Street, and many others.
  • In 2011, Baez was presented with the first award from Amnesty International for Outstanding Inspirational Service in the Global Fight for Human Rights. The award will be known as the Joan Baez Award for future recipients. The same organization gave her their Ambassador of Conscience Award in 2015.
  • Baez was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2017. In 2007, she was given a Lifetime Achievement Grammy award. While her legacy in folk music in the 60s and early 70s cannot be denied, her role as activist has created her biggest legacy. Undoubtedly, she’s happy with that. Here’s her most famous piece of music, The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.

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