Photo by Dana Tynan (2003)
Joan Chandos Baez Joan Baez was born January 9, 1941 in Staten Island, New
York. Her father was a Mexican physicist and her mother of was born in Scotland.
She grew up in New York and California.
At a time in the United States' history when it was neither safe nor
fashionable, Joan Baez put herself on the line countless times, and her life?s
work was mirrored in her music. She sang about freedom and Civil Rights
everywhere, from the backs of flatbed trucks to the steps of the Lincoln
Memorial at Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King?s March on Washington in 1963.
In 1964, she withheld 60% of her income tax from the IRS to protest military
spending, and participated in the birth of the Free Speech movement at UC
Berkeley. A year later she co-founded the Institute For The Study Of Nonviolence
near her home in Carmel Valley. In 1966, Joan Baez stood in the fields alongside
Cesar Chavez and migrant farm workers striking for fair wages, and opposed
capital punishment at San Quentin during a Christmas vigil. The following year
she turned her attention to the draft (military conscription) resistance
movement. As the war in Vietnam escalated in the late 1960s and early 1970s, she
traveled to Hanoi with the U.S.-based Liaison Committee and helped establish
Amnesty International on the West Coast of the United States.
The soundtrack to those times was provided by a stunning soprano whose natural
vibrato lent a taut, nervous tension to everything she sang. Yet even as an
18-year old, introduced onstage at the first annual Newport Folk Festival in
1959, and during her apprenticeship on the Boston-Cambridge coffee house folk
music circuit leading up to the recording of her first solo album for Vanguard
Records in the summer of 1960, Joan?s repertoire reflected a different
sensibility from her peers. In the traditional songs she mastered, there was an
acknowledgment of the human condition ? underdogs in the fight, inequity among
the races, poverty?s desperation, the futility of war, romantic betrayal,
unrequited love, spiritual redemption, and grace.
Hidden within the traditional ballads and blues, lullabies, Carter Family songs,
cowboy tunes, and ethnic folk staples were messages that won Joan strong
followings here and abroad. Among the songs she introduced on her earliest
albums that would find their way into the rock vernacular were "House Of the
Rising Sun" (the Animals), "John Riley" (the Byrds), "Babe, I?m Gonna Leave You"
(Led Zeppelin), "What Have They Done To the Rain" (the Searchers), "Jackaroe"
(Grateful Dead), and "Long Black Veil" (the Band), to name but a few. "Geordie,"
"House Carpenter," and "Matty Groves" became staples for a multitude of British
artists whose origins are traced to three seminal groups; Fairport Convention,
Pentangle, and Steeleye Span.
In the wake of the Beatles, the definition of what constituted folk music ? a
solo performer with an acoustic guitar ? broadened significantly and liberated
many artists. Rather than following the pack into amplified folk-rock, Joan
recorded three remarkable LPs with classical instrumentation. Later, when the
time was right, as the ?60s turned into the ?70s, she began recording in
Nashville. It provided the backdrop for her last four albums on Vanguard Records
(including her biggest career single, a cover of the Band?s "The Night They
Drove Old Dixie Down") and her first two releases on A&M.
Within the context of those albums and the approaching end of hostilities in
Southeast Asia, Joan decided to cast light on the suffering of those living in
Chile under the rule of Augusto Pinochet. To those people she dedicated her
first album sung entirely in Spanish, a record that inspired Linda Ronstadt,
later in the ?80s, to begin recording the Spanish songs of her heritage. One of
the songs Joan sang on that album, "No Nos Moveran" (We Shall Not Be Moved), had
been banned from public singing in Spain for more than forty years under
Generalissimo Franco?s rule, and was excised from copies of the album sold
there. Joan became the first major artist to sing the song publicly when she
performed it on a controversial television appearance in Madrid in 1977, three
years after the dictator?s death.
Joan?s productive years at A&M Records in the 1970?s included the landmark
release of her self-penned "Diamonds & Rust" single, the title track of an album
that included songs by Jackson Browne, Janis Ian, John Prine, Stevie Wonder &
Syreeta, Dickey Betts of the Allman Brothers Band ? and Bob Dylan. His Rolling
Thunder Revues of late 1975 and ?76 (and the resulting movie Renaldo & Clara,
released in 1978) would co-star Joan Baez. Later that year she traveled to
Northern Ireland and marched with the Irish Peace People, calling for an end to
the violence plaguing the country.
Even as she began brief associations with new record labels in the late ?70s
(CBS Portrait) and after a long hiatus, the late ?80s (Gold Castle), Joan Baez
did not diminish her political activities. She appeared at rallies on behalf of
the nuclear freeze movement, and performed at benefit concerts to defeat
California?s Proposition 6 (Briggs Initiative), legislation that would have
banned openly gay people from teaching in public schools. She received the
American Civil Liberties Union?s Earl Warren Award for her commitment to human
and civil rights issues; and founded Humanitas International Human Rights
Committee, which she headed for the next 13 years.
After winning the San Francisco Bay Area Music Award (BAMMY) as top female
vocalist in 1978 and 1979, a number of film, video, and live recordings
documented Joan?s travels and concerts. In 1983, she performed on the Grammy
awards telecast for the first time (singing Bob Dylan?s "Blowin? In the Wind").
In the summer of 1985, after opening the U.S segment of the worldwide Live Aid
telecast, she later appeared at the revived Newport Folk Festival, the first
gathering since 1969. In 1986, Joan joined Peter Gabriel, Sting, and others on
Amnesty International?s Conspiracy of Hope tour. Later that year, she was chosen
to perform The People's Summit concert in Iceland at the time of the historic
meeting between U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet General Secretary
After performing at a 1989 concert in Czechoslovakia attended by many of that
country?s dissidents, President Vaclav Havel (who was in attendance) cited Joan
as a great influence in the so-called Velvet Revolution. Two years later, Joan
teamed with Indigo Girls and Mary Chapin Carpenter (as Four Voices) for the
first of several benefit performances.When Joan?s album,
Play Me Backwards, came out in 1992, it featured songs by Mary
Chapin Carpenter, John Hiatt, John Stewart, and others.
In 1993, Joan became the first major artist to perform in Sarajevo
since the outbreak of the civil war as she traveled to war-torn
Bosnia-Herzegovina at the invitation of Refugees International. The next year,
she sang in honor of Pete Seeger at the Kennedy Center Honors Gala in
Washington, D.C. Also in 1994, Joan and Janis Ian sang for the National Gay and
Lesbian Task Force?s Fight the Right fundraising event in San Francisco.
After receiving her third BAMMY (as Outstanding Female Vocalist for 1995),
Joan?s nurturing support of other singer-songwriters came full circle with her
Ring Them Bells. Recorded live at the Bottom Line in New York, the
CD featured guest artists Mary Black, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Mimi Fari?a, Tish
Hinojosa, Janis Ian, Indigo Girls, Kate and Anna McGarrigle, and Dar Williams.
The album that followed, 1997?s
Gone from Danger, again revealed Joan as a lightning rod for young
songwriting talent, with compositions from Williams, Sinead Lohan, Kerrville
Music Festival newcomer Betty Elders, Austin?s The Borrowers, and Richard
Shindell (who went on to tour extensively with Joan over the years).
In August 2001, Vanguard Records began the most extensive chronological reissue
program ever focused on one artist in the company?s history, as expanded edition
CDs were released of her debut solo album of 1960,
Joan Baez, and
Joan Baez, Vol. 2 (1961). The campaign (which is more than
half completed as of this writing) will eventually encompass every one of the 13
original LPs she recorded while under contract to the label between 1960 and
1972. Spurred by Vanguard?s success, Universal Music Enterprises undertook in
2003 to gather Joan?s six complete A&M albums released from 1972 to 1976 into a
mini-boxed set of four CDs, also with bonus material.
From the very beginning of her musical career, Joan Baez has never sought to
draw lines between real world, real time events and her own artistic vision. Her
instincts have often been that of a journalist ? or an incurable romantic. There
are plenty of both to be found on
Dark Chords on a Big Guitar (2003), Joan?s first new album of
studio recordings since 1997.
In the tradition of many of her classic albums,
Dark Chords on a Big Guitar is a fresh collection from
contemporary songwriters whose work resonates with Joan Baez. The songs are
drawn from the pens of Ryan Adams ("In My Time Of Need"), Greg Brown ("Sleeper,"
"Rexroth?s Daughter," whose lyric gives the album its title), Caitlin Cary
("Rosemary Moore"), Steve Earle ("Christmas In Washington"), Joe Henry ("King?s
Highway"), Natalie Merchant ("Motherland"), Josh Ritter ("Wings"), and Gillian
Welch & David Rawlings ("Elvis Presley Blues," "Caleb Meyer").
The live album
Bowery Songs released in 2005 was recorded in its entirety on the Saturday
night after Election Day, November 2004, at New York's Bowery Ballroom.
Part of this biography was edited from Joan Baez's official biography by Arthur Levy.
Official Web Site: /www.joanbaez.com/