JOAN BAEZ: A GREAT SINGER OF THE PEACE AND CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT
Baez has performed publicly for over 55 years, releasing over 30 albums. Fluent in Spanish as well as in English, she has also recorded songs in at least six other languages. She is regarded as a folk singer, although her music has diversified since the 1960s, encompassing everything from folk rock and pop to country and gospel music. Although a songwriter herself, Baez is generally regarded as an interpreter of other people's work, having recorded songs by The Allman Brothers Band, The Beatles, Jackson Browne, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Violeta Parra, Woody Guthrie, The Rolling Stones, Pete Seeger, Paul Simon, Stevie Wonder and many others. In recent years, she has found success interpreting songs of modern songwriters such as Ryan Adams, Josh Ritter, Steve Earle and Natalie Merchant.
Baez was born on Staten Island, New York in 1941. Her father, Albert Baez, was born in 1912 in Puebla, Puebla, Mexico, and died March 20, 2007. His father, Joan's grandfather, the Reverend Alberto Baez, left Catholicism to become a Methodist minister and moved to the U.S. when Albert was two years old. Albert grew up in Brooklyn, New York, where his father preached to—and advocated for—a Spanish-speaking congregation. Albert first considered becoming a minister but instead he turned to the study ofmathematics and physics, where he later became a co-inventor of the x-ray microscope and author of one of the most widely used physics textbooks in the U.S. The Baez family converted to Quakerism during Joan's early childhood, and she has continued to identify with the tradition, particularly in her commitment to pacifism and social issues.Her mother, Joan (Bridge) Baez, referred to as Joan Senior or "Big Joan", was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, the second daughter of an English Anglican priest descended from the Dukes of Chandos. Born in April 1913, she died on April 20, 2013, days after her hundredth birthday. Joan Senior and Albert met at a high-school dance in Madison, New Jersey, and quickly fell in love. After their marriage, the newlyweds moved to California.
Because of her father's work in health care and with UNESCO, the family moved many times, living in towns across the U.S, as well as in England, France, Switzerland, Spain, Canada, and the Middle East, including Iraq, where they were in 1951. Joan became involved with a variety of social causes early in her career, including civil rights and non-violence. Social justice, she stated in the PBS series American Masters, is the true core of her life, "looming larger than music".
A friend of Joan's father gave her a ukulele. She learned four chords, which enabled her to play rhythm and blues, the music she was listening to at the time. Her parents, however, were fearful that the music would lead her into a life of drug addiction. When she was 8, at her aunt's behest, Baez attended a concert by folk musician Pete Seeger, and found herself strongly moved by his music. She soon began practicing the songs of his repertoire and performing them publicly. One of her very earliest public performances was at a retreat in Saratoga, California, for a youth group from Temple Beth Jacob, a Redwood City, California, congregation. In 1957, Baez bought her firstGibson acoustic guitar.
College music scene in Massachusetts
In 1958, her father accepted a faculty position at MIT, and moved his family to Massachusetts. At that time, it was within the center of the up-and-coming folk-music scene, and Baez began performing near home in Boston and nearby Cambridge. She also performed in clubs, and attended Boston University for about six weeks. In 1958, at the Club 47 in Cambridge, she gave her first concert. When designing the poster for the performance, Baez considered changing her performing name to either Rachel Sandperl, thesurname of her long-time mentor, Ira Sandperl or Maria from the song "They Call the Wind Maria". She later opted against doing so, fearing that people would accuse her of changing her last name because it was Spanish. The audience consisted of her parents, her sister Mimi, her boyfriend, and a small group of friends, resulting in a total of eight patrons. She was paid ten dollars. Baez was later asked back and began performing twice a week for $25 per show.
A few months later, Baez and two other folk enthusiasts made plans to record an album in the cellar of a friend's house. The three sang solos and duets, a family friend designed the album cover, and it was released on Veritas Records that same year as Folksingers 'Round Harvard Square. Baez later met Bob Gibson and Odetta, who were at the time two of the most prominent vocalists singing folk and gospel music. Baez cites Odetta as a primary influence along with Marian Anderson and Seeger. Gibson invited Baez to perform with him at the 1959 Newport Folk Festival, where the two sang two duets, "Virgin Mary Had One Son" and "We Are Crossing Jordan River". The performance generated substantial praise for the "barefoot Madonna" with the otherworldly voice, and it was this appearance that led to Baez signing with Vanguard Records the following year although Columbia Records tried to sign her first. Baez later claimed that she felt she would be given more artistic license at a more "low key" label.
First albums and 1960s breakthrough
Baez playing at the March on Washington in August 1963.
Her true professional career began at that 1959 Newport Folk Festival; following that appearance, she recorded her first album for Vanguard, Joan Baez (1960), produced by Fred Hellerman of The Weavers, who produced many albums by folk artists. The collection of traditional folk ballads, blues and laments sung to her own guitar accompaniment sold moderately well. It featured many popular Child Ballads of the day, such as "Mary Hamilton" and was recorded in only four days in the ballroom of New York City'sManhattan Towers Hotel. The album also included "El Preso Numero Nueve", a song sung entirely in Spanish. (She would rerecord the later song in 1974 for inclusion on her Spanish-language album, Gracias a la Vida)
Her second release, Joan Baez, Vol. 2 (1961) went "gold", as did Joan Baez in Concert, Part 1 (1962) and Joan Baez in Concert, Part 2 (1963). Like its immediate predecessor, Joan Baez, Vol. 2 contained strictly traditional material. Her two albums of live material, Joan Baez in Concert, Part 1 and its second counterpart, were unique in that, unlike most live albums, they contained only new songs, rather than established favorites. It was Joan Baez in Concert, Part 2 that featured Baez's first-ever Dylan cover. From the early-to-mid-1960s, Baez emerged at the forefront of the American roots revival, where she introduced her audiences to the then-unknown Bob Dylan (the two became romantically involved in late 1962, remaining together through early 1965), and was emulated by artists such as Judy Collins, Emmylou Harris, Joni Mitchell and Bonnie Raitt.
Though primarily an albums artist, several of Baez' singles have charted and the first being her 1965 cover of Phil Ochs' "There but for Fortune", which became a mid-level chart hit in the U.S. and a top-ten single in the United Kingdom. Baez added other instruments to her recordings on Farewell, Angelina (1965), which features several Dylan songs interspersed with more traditional fare. Deciding to experiment after having exhausted the folksinger-with-guitar format, Baez turned to Peter Schickele, a classical musiccomposer, who provided classical orchestration for her next three albums: Noël (1966), Joan (1967) and Baptism: A Journey Through Our Time (1968). Noël was a Christmasalbum of traditional material, while Baptism was akin to a concept album, featuring Baez reading and singing poems written by celebrated poets such as James Joyce, Federico García Lorca and Walt Whitman. Joan featured interpretations of work by then-contemporary composers, including John Lennon and Paul McCartney, Tim Hardin, Paul Simonand Donovan.
In 1968, Baez traveled to Nashville, Tennessee, where a marathon recording session resulted in two albums. The first, Any Day Now (1968), consists exclusively of Dylan covers. The other, the country-music-infused David's Album (1969) was recorded for then-husband David Harris, a prominent anti-Vietnam War protester eventually imprisoned for draft resistance. Harris, a country-music fan, turned Baez toward more complex country-rock influences beginning with David's Album. Later in 1968, she published her first memoir, Daybreak (by Dial Press). In 1969, her appearance at Woodstock in upstate New York afforded her an international musical and political podium, particularly upon the successful release of the documentary film Woodstock (1970). Beginning in the late 1960s, Baez began writing many of her own songs, beginning with "Sweet Sir Galahad" and "A Song For David," both songs appearing on her 1970 (I Live) One Day at a Time album; "Sweet Sir Galahad" was written about her sister Mimi's second marriage, while "A Song For David" was a tribute to Harris. One Day at a Time, like David's Album, featured a decidedly country sound.
Baez's distinctive vocal style and political activism had a significant impact on popular music. She was one of the first musicians to use her popularity as a vehicle for social protest, singing and marching for human rights and peace. Baez came to be considered the "most accomplished interpretive folksinger/songwriter of the 1960s." Her appeal extended far beyond the folk-music audience. Of her fourteen Vanguard albums, thirteen made the top 100 of Billboard's mainstream pop chart, eleven made the top forty, eight made the top twenty, and four made the top ten.
1970s and the end of Vanguard years
Baez playing in a Hamburg TV studio, 1973
After eleven years with Vanguard, Baez decided in 1971 to cut ties with the label that had released her albums since 1960. She delivered them one last success with the gold-selling album Blessed Are... (1971) which spawned a top-ten hit in Robbie Robertson's "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down", her cover of The Band's signature song. With Come from the Shadows(1972), Baez switched to A&M Records, where she remained for four years and six albums.
Joan Baez wrote and performed "The Story of Bangladesh" at the Concert for Bangladesh, Madison Square Garden in 1971. This song was based on the Pakistan Army crackdown on unarmed sleeping Bengali students at Dhaka University on March 25, 1971, which ignited the prolonged nine-month Bangladesh Liberation War. The song was later entitled "The Song of Bangladesh" and released in a 1972 album from Chandos Music.
During this period, in late 1971, she reunited with Schickele to record two tracks, "Rejoice in the Sun" and "Silent Running" for thescience-fiction film, Silent Running. The two songs were issued as a single on Decca (32890). In addition to this, another LP was released on Decca (DL 7-9188), and was later reissued by Varèse Sarabande on black (STV-81072) and green (VC-81072) vinyl. In 1998 a limited release on CD by the "Valley Forge Record Groupe" was released.
Baez' first album for A&M, Come from the Shadows, was recorded in Nashville, and included a number of more personal compositions, including "Love Song to a Stranger" and "Myths", as well as work by Mimi Farina, John Lennon, and Anna Marly.
Where Are You Now, My Son? (1973) featured a 23-minute title song which took up all of the B-side of the album. Half spoken word poem and half tape-recorded sounds, the song documented Baez's visit to Hanoi, North Vietnam, in December 1972, during which she and her traveling companions survived the 11-day long Christmas Bombingscampaign over Hanoi and Haiphong. (See Vietnam War in Civil rights section below.)
Gracias a la Vida (1974) (the title song written and first performed by Chilean folk singer Violeta Parra) followed and was a success in both the U.S. and Latin America. It included the song "Cucurrucucú paloma". Flirting with mainstream pop music as well as writing her own songs for Diamonds & Rust (1975), the album became the highest selling of Baez's career and spawned a second top-ten single in the form of the title track.
After Gulf Winds (1976), an album of entirely self-composed songs, and From Every Stage (1976), a live album that had Baez performing songs "from every stage" of her career, Baez again parted ways with a record label when she moved to CBS Records for Blowin' Away (1977) and Honest Lullaby (1979).
1980s and 1990s
In 1980, Baez was given honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degrees by Antioch University and Rutgers University for her political activism and the "universality of her music". In 1983, she appeared on the Grammy Awards, performing Dylan's anthemic "Blowin' in the Wind", a song she first performed twenty years earlier.
Baez also played a significant role in the 1985 Live Aid concert for African famine relief, opening the U.S. segment of the show inPhiladelphia, Pennsylvania. She has toured on behalf of many other causes, including Amnesty International's 1986 A Conspiracy of Hope tour and a guest spot on their subsequent Human Rights Now! tour.
Baez found herself without an American label for the release of Live Europe 83 (1984), which was released in Europe and Canada, but not released commercially in the U.S. She did not have an American release until the album Recently (1987) on Gold Castle Records.
In 1987, Baez's second autobiography called And a Voice to Sing With was published and became a New York Times bestseller. That same year, she traveled to the Middle East to visit with and sing songs of peace for Israel and the Palestinians.
In May 1989, Baez performed at a music festival in communist Czechoslovakia, called Bratislavská lýra. While there, she met futureCzechoslovakian president Václav Havel, whom she let carry her guitar so as to prevent his arrest by government agents. During her performance, she greeted members of Charter 77, a dissident human-rights group, which resulted in her microphone being shut off abruptly. Baez then proceeded to sing a cappella for the nearly four thousand gathered. Havel cited her as a great inspiration and influence in that country's Velvet Revolution, the revolution in which the Soviet-dominated communist government there was overthrown.
Baez recorded two more albums with Gold Castle, Speaking of Dreams, (1989) and Brothers in Arms (1991). She then landed a contract with a major label, Virgin Records, recording Play Me Backwards (1992) for Virgin shortly before the company was purchased by EMI. She then switched to Guardian, with whom she produced a live album, Ring Them Bells (1995), and a studio album, Gone from Danger (1997).
In 1993, at the invitation of Refugees International and sponsored by the Soros Foundation, she traveled to the war-torn Bosnia and Herzegovina region of then-Yugoslavia in an effort to help bring more attention to the suffering there. She was the first major artist to perform in Sarajevo since the outbreak of the Yugoslav civil war.
In October of that year, Baez became the first major artist to perform in a professional concert presentation on Alcatraz Island (a former U.S. federal prison) in San Francisco, California, in a benefit for her sister Mimi's Bread and Roses organization. She later returned for another concert in 1996.
2000 to present
Beginning in 2001, Baez has had several successful long-term engagements as a lead character at San Francisco's Teatro ZinZanni. In August 2001, Vanguard began re-releasing Baez's first 13 albums, which she recorded for the label between 1960 and 1971. The reissues, being released through Vanguard's Original Master Series, feature digitally restored sound, unreleased bonus songs, new and original artwork, and new liner-note essays written by Arthur Levy. Likewise, her six A&M albums were reissued in 2003.
In 2003, Baez was also a judge for the third annual Independent Music Awards to support independent artists' careers. Her album, Dark Chords on a Big Guitar (2003), features songs by composers half her age, while a November 2004 performance at New York City's Bowery Ballroom was recorded for a live release, Bowery Songs (2005).
On October 1, 2005, she performed at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival, at San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. Then, on January 13, 2006, Baez performed at the funeral of Lou Rawls, where she led Jesse Jackson, Sr., Wonder, and others in the singing of "Amazing Grace". On June 6, 2006, Baez joined Bruce Springsteen on stage at his San Francisco concert, where the two performed the rolling anthem "Pay Me My Money Down". In September 2006, Baez contributed a live, retooled version of her classic song "Sweet Sir Galahad" to a Starbucks's exclusive XM Artist Confidential album. In the new version, she changed the lyric "here's to the dawn of their days" to "here's to the dawn of her days", as a tribute to her late sister Mimi, about whom Baez wrote the song in 1969. Later on, October 8, 2006, she appeared as a special surprise guest at the opening ceremony of the Forum 2000international conference in Prague, Czech Republic. Her performance was kept secret from former Czech Republic President Havel until the moment she appeared on stage. Havel was a great admirer of both Baez and her work. During Baez's next visit to Prague, in April 2007, the two met again when she performed in front of a sold-out house at Prague's Lucerna Hall, a building erected by Havel's grandfather. On December 2, 2006, she made a guest appearance at the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir's Christmas Concert at the Paramount Theatre in Oakland, California. Her participation included versions of "Let Us Break Bread Together" and "Amazing Grace". She also joined the choir in the finale of "O Holy Night".
Joan Baez concert in Dresden, Germany, July 2008
In February 2007, Proper Records reissued her live album Ring Them Bells (1995), which featured duets with artists ranging fromDar Williams and Mimi Fariña to the Indigo Girls and Mary Chapin Carpenter. The reissue features a 16-page booklet and six unreleased live tracks from the original recording sessions, including "Love Song to a Stranger", "You Ain't Goin' Nowhere", "Geordie", "Gracias a la Vida", "The Water Is Wide" and "Stones in the Road", bringing the total tracklisting to 21 songs (on two discs). In addition, Baez recorded a duet of "Jim Crow" with John Mellencamp which appears on his album Freedom's Road (2007). He has called the album a "Woody Guthrie rock album". The recording was heavily influenced by albums from the 1960s, which is why he invited an icon from that era to appear with him. Also in February 2007, she received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. The day after receiving the honor, she appeared at the Grammy Awards ceremony and introduced a performance by the Dixie Chicks.
August 13, 2009, Seattle
September 9, 2008, saw the release of the studio album Day After Tomorrow, produced by Steve Earle and featuring three of his songs. On June 29, 2008, Baez performed on the Acoustic Stage at the Glastonbury Festival in Glastonbury, U.K.,playing out the final set to a packed audience. On July 6, 2008, she played at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Montreux, Switzerland. During the concert's finale, she spontaneously danced on stage with a band of African percussionists.
On August 2, 2009, Baez played at the 50th Newport Folk Festival, which also marked the 50th anniversary of her breakthrough performance at the first festival. On October 14, 2009, PBS aired an episode of its documentary series, American Masters, entitled, Joan Baez: How Sweet the Sound. It was produced and directed by Mary Wharton. A DVD and CD of the sound track were released at the same time.