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Ian, Janis

Janis Ian

Singer, songwriter

For the Record

Selected discography

Sources

Anew generation of female musicians developed in the 1990s. Some of them looked tough, some fresh-faced and beautiful. Some were talented songwriters, while still others possessed angelic voices. Janis Ian was a little of each of them, but she cleared the way for them all. Ian has been called an American folk troubadour, and her consistent staying power has earned her nominations for at least one Grammy award from the 1960s-90s. And she started in 1966, when she was just 15.

While waiting to see a high-school guidance counselor, the former Janis Eddy Fink, daughter of a music teacher, wrote a song about interracial romance called Societys Child (Baby Ive Been Thinking). After she recorded and released it, the controversial song was ignored by most radio stations, and outright banned by others. Things changed for the song, and for Lan, when conductor Leonard Bernstein featured her on his TV show Inside Pop: The Rock Revolution, calling her a marvelous creature. She performed the song backed by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. The song charted at number 14 in 1967.

For the Record

Born Janis Eddy Fink, April 7, 1951, New York, NY; married and divorced photojournalist Peter Cunningham. Education: attended High School of Music and Art, Manhattan.

Composition Hair of Spun Gold appeared in Broadside magazine, 1964; released debut, Societys Child (Baby Ive Been Thinking) in 1966; released Janis Ian and was nominated for a Grammy award; appeared on The Tonight Show and in Time, Life and Newsweek; released Between the Lines in 1975.

Awards: Grammy awards for At Seventeen, 1975; Silly Habits with Mel Torme as Best Vocal Duet, 1981; and In Harmony 2, in 1982.

Addresses: Record company Windham Hill Records, PO Box 9388, Stanford, CA 94309; (415) 329-0647; fax (415) 329-1512; email whinfo@windham.com.

After quitting Manhattans High School of Music and Art as a junior, the year after Societys Child was released, she released her first album, Jams Ian, on Verve, in 1967. She released three more for Verve, For All the Seasons of your Mind in 1967; The Secret Life of J. Eddy Finkin 1968 and 1969s Who Really Cares. In 1974 and 1975, Ian released Starson One Way, and Between the Lines and Aftertones on Columbia. Roberta Flack later recorded Jesse from Stars and topped the charts with it. Between the Lines included At Seventeen, a single that went to number three on the charts and earned Ian a Grammy award for Best Female Vocal. 1975 was lans most successful yearshe sold over $5 million in recordswhich was important to her. After Societys Child, she felt she needed to dispel the notion that the single was a fluke, that she was washed up by age 18. Her next several albums recorded from 1977-79, Miracle Row, Janis Ian, and Night Rains, didnt garner much attention at all.

As a young star, Ian faced hurdles in an industry that can be difficult even for adults to deal with. Well I was fourteen so thats already a problem, she recalled in a 1993 interview with Lydia Hutchinson of A&R Insider. Being underage meant that she couldnt sign her own contracts, book her own musicians, or run her own sessions. Being a young female musician in the late sixties only complicated things further. I remember violent arguments with TV people in [Los Angeles] when I was fifteen about wearing pants or dresses, she told Hutchinson. Her wardrobe wars were only the start of her gender-related battles. She also remembered having a tough time getting credit as the leader of her three-person group. Theres this assumption that if youre male and have a bandits your band.... But if youre female, theyre pickup musicians. I dont know why that is.

Ian acknowledged that the music business is a tough road for everyone, but it was extraordinarily tough for a young, emotionally developing girl. The hurdles werent that different from anyone else, she said, except when you are an adolescent, its so hard just existing, that the added pressure of expecting yourself to be brilliant and to communicate and to become a whole and honest person is a lot. She remembered rock veteran and notorious substance abuser Janis Joplin sending her home from a party where drugs were being used.

In overcoming her growing pains, Ian only faced more complicated gender issues as an adult. She went under fire by some feminists because she didnt have any other women in her band. I got really offended because its a three-piece band, she said, in which she plays guitar, piano, and sings. Outside of me theres just two other people, so we have a 33 percent ratio. But it was like I wasnt in the band. There was this assumption on some weird level that as a female and as a singer I was not a serious musician. Although she still felt pressure as a female musician in a mans world, Ian knew things had changed for her over the years. Well, the dress things not an issue, she told Hutchinson, laughing. She started receiving credit from musicians she respected. Chick Corea thinks Im a wonderful pianist, Chet Atkins thinks Im a wonderful guitarist. And that beats it to me. How much does the rest matter?

Even as a young musician, Ian always stayed true to her own material. Except for a few commercial jingles, she only recorded songs she had written. I did turn down You Light Up My Life, and I would have done a good job on it, she admitted to A&R Insider, but it seemed real important at the time, since there were so few women writers, to prove the point. And prove the point she did, releasing 13 albumsconsisting mostly of her songs from 1967-81. The next 12 years, however, would see only two albums from Ian.

lans 12-year hiatus before Breaking Silence, in 1993, was due to a series of major personal and financial problems that kept her from recording, but strengthened her resolve and self-worth as a musician, nonetheless. A former accountant had botched her taxes, her health failed, her marriage ended, and she lost her house. She sold her instruments for money to live on, but she kept writing music. The knowledge kept hitting me in the face that everybody could take everything away from me, she told Richard Johnston in Guitar Player in 1997, but they couldnt take my talent.

Its good in a lot of ways because I didnt want a lot of those years on record, she told Hutchinson. I didnt like what I was writing. Ittook me awhile to find my voice again, I think. The voice she found was stronger, more mature, than the one her fans had last heard. It was with this hard-earned personal resolve that Ian also revealed her homosexuality. With Breaking Silence, she seemed renewed and empowered, taking on the issues that shed been missing out on for over a decade. The laid back folk sound of lans new material belied the strong lyrics on such heady subjects as battered wives, eroticism, the Holocaust, and 60s nostalgia.

When new-age and classical record label Windham Hill approached lans manager, they were told she didnt trust major labels. I certainly didnt want to be with Windham Hill and make zither music, Ian told Billboard in 1997. But they wined and dined her and treated her like royaltya refreshing change for an older female artist, she said. Grace Newman, of Windham Hill marketing, professed the labels feeling about Ian to Billboard in the same story. Shes a pioneer in the female musician arena, which started out decades ago and went undergroundthen exploded with everybody from Shawn Colvin to Jewel to Sarah McLachlan. The label released Hunger shortly thereafter. Windham Hill also predicted that the respect shed garnered as a woman over the years would attract long-time fans, as wells as those of the new generation of female musicians.

Ian approached independentfemale rocker Ani Difrancoa sort of Janis Ian for the X Generationto work on Hunger. Ian had listened to Difrancos Not a Pretty Girl album and found a kindred spirit in the younger artist. Ian, in fact, was taken aback. I thought I should find something else to do with my life! she told Billboard. She was pushing the envelope in ways I wanted to do. Difranco was tentative, as shed only produced her own material. Thinking that shed feel intrusive in someone elses recording studio, it took Ian a year to convince her. The result was the track Searching and the nicest producer experience of my life, Ian said, lans new sound, which she termed technofolk was strong, or as Johnston called it Stark social commentary, vivid imagery and unflinchingly personal meditations.

Selected discography

Janis Ian (Verve), Verve, 1967.

For All the Seasons of Your Mind, Verve, 1967.

The Secret Life of J. Eddie Fink, Verve, 1968.

Who Really Cares, Verve, 1969.

Present Company, One Way, 1971.

Stars, One Way, 1974.

Between the Lines, Columbia, 1975.

Aftertones, Columbia, 1975.

Miracle Row, Columbia, 1977.

Janis Ian (Columbia), Columbia, 1978.

Night Rains, Columbia, 1979.

The Best of Janis Ian, CBS, 1980.

Restless Eyes, Columbia, 1981.

Uncle Wonderful, Grapevine, 1983.

Stars/Night Rains, CBS, 1987.

Breaking Silence, Morgan Creek, 1993.

Live on the Test 1976, BBC Worldwide, 1995.

Societys Child: the Verve Recordings, Poly dor, 1995.

Hunger, Windham Hill, 1997.

Sources

Books

Romanowski, Patricia and Warren, Holly George, editors, The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, Fireside/Simon &Shuster, 1995.

Periodicals

Billboard, August 30, 1997.

Guitar Player, December 1997.

Online

http://imusic.interserv.com (September 27,1998).

http://www.songs.com (September 20,1998).

http://www.jacksonville.com (September 20,1998).

http://www.taxi.com (September 20,1998).

http://www.allmusic.com (September 20,1998).

http://www.cdnow.com (September 20,1998).

Additional information was provided by Windham Hill publicity materials, April, 27 1998.

Brenna Sanchez

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"Ian, Janis." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. 14 Dec. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"Ian, Janis." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved December 14, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/ian-janis-0

Ian, Janis

Janis Ian

Singer, songwriter, guitarist, pianist

For the Record

Compositions

Selected discography

Sources

Disturbed by the problems and hypocrisies of modern society, singer/songwriter Janis Ian has made a career out of earnestly challenging the status quo. In 1966, at the tender age of 15, she addressed racial prejudice in her hit song Societys Child, the poignant story of a white girl forced by parents, teachers, and others to forsake her black boyfriend. A decade later the performer touchingly conveyed the painful feelings of a plain adolescent girl in the award-winning At Seventeen, indicting a society where female self-worth too often hinges on physical beauty, lans Uncle Wonderful, written in the mid-eighties, looked at the secret world and indelible wounds of child molestation. Janis lans intelligence and perception continue to shine through all that she does, observed Peter Reilly in a Stereo Review critique of the entertainers 1979 album, Night Rains. The title song has vintage Ian lyrics, flushed with the kind of theatrical melodrama that only she can create and it is performed with the pulsing, dark intensity that is her trademark. No one ever accused songwriter Janis Ian of dodging lifes difficult issues, People reporter Lois Armstrong agreed.

A musical child prodigy, Ian began classical piano training at the age of three and mastered the acoustic guitar a few years later. By age 12 she was writing songs and performing at school functionsmusic being her only solace as she moved from place to place repeatedly with her family. Her own musical tastes varied, with favorites like jazz vocalist Billie Holiday and folk singer Odetta; lans early compositions were largely stormy generation-gap pieces with folk song melodies that nonetheless contained some remarkably perceptive observations. By 16 she was singing and playing in Greenwich Village folk clubs and landed a recording contract with Verve.

Verve agreed to release lans daring Societys Child, already rejected by twenty-two other recording companies. The year was 1966, and disc jockeys across the country were reluctant to air lans song of interracial love. But New York Philharmonic conductor Leonard Bernstein featured the young singer on his television special, and she became an instant celebritywith Societys Child rising to Number 14 on the charts. Her debut album, Janis Ian, was a success; acclaimed as a female Bob Dylan, the performer embarked on a national concert tour. Yet her auspicious start proved impossible to sustain, disillusionment set in, and the entertainers career began to flag. Turning to drugs and psychotherapy, Ian eventually settled in Los Angeles, where she could scarcely obtain a booking. People were throwing bottles at me, she recounted to Armstrong. It was all the dues I never paid when I was 15.

Ian announced her retirementbut could not stop

For the Record

Name originally Janis Eddy Fink; born April 7, 1951, in New York, N.Y., raised in New Jersey and New York City; daughter of Victor (a music teacher) and Pearl Fink; married Tino Sargo (a businessman) in 1978. Education: Attended Manhattan High School of Music and Art.

Began studying piano at age three and guitar at 11; wrote songs and performed by age 12; sang and played at school functions, then in New York City folk clubs; first recording contract, 1966, at age 15; national television debut on Leonard Bernstein special, 1967, first hit song and national concert tour that same year; retired from performing, 1968-70; began comeback as performer in 1971; semi-retired as entertainer by 1981, concentrating on songwriting.

Awards: Grammy Award for best female pop vocal performance, 1975, for At Seventeen.

writing for longshe still had things to say. I felt more mature, that I had more insight, she told Irwin Stambler in the Encyclopedia of Pop, Rock, and Soul, as she discussed her comeback efforts in the early 1970s. The reasons I came back to the music field come down to this: I was writing songs I liked and I wanted to record them. While her next few albums brought disappointing results, Ian enjoyed moderate success with the 1974 LP Stars. Notable was the title song, lans cynical view of celebrity, as well as her version of Jesse, a hit for vocalist Roberta Flack a year earlier (which helped rekindle lans reputation as a songwriter). Her comeback endeavors reached full flower a year later with the platinum album Between the Lines, containing the Grammy-winning single At Seventeen. Critics found this new Ian less angry and grim, more thoughtful and assured.

Ian continued to write, record, and perform through the seventies and eighties, but never again approached the success of Between the Lines. Still, she remained uninhibited, addressing subjects that interested her. Under the Covers, a 1981 song reflecting on the virtues of Latin men as lovers, was refused air play because its lyrics were deemed too risque; Uncle Wonderful, which Ian performed in concert, was avoided by record companies in much the same way as Societys Child two decades before.

More than one critic has puzzled over the music industrys apparent wariness when it comes to Ianironic, given the provocative topics rock groups have dealt in for years. Discussing Under the Covers in a review of the performers 1981 album Restless Eyes, Reilly decided that compared with the average pre-teen conversation these days, its about as lewd as To a Sky-lark. Underthe Covers is a typically fine piece of writing and performing by Ian, continued the critic. Like all her work, its distinguished by an earthy but romantic sensibility that expresses itself fearlessly regardless of social climate.

Compositions

Composer of numerous songs recorded by other artists, including Roberta Flack, Kenny Rogers, and Alabama; has collaborated with country songwriter Rhonda Kye Fleming. Has written songs for motion pictures, including The Foxes and The Bell Jar.

Selected discography

Singles

Societys Child/Letter to Jon, 1967.

Younger Generation Blues/III Give You a Stone If Youll Throw It, 1967.

Insanity Comes Quietly to the Structured Kind/Sunflakes Pall, Snowrays Call, 1967.

Song for All the Seasons of Your Mind/Lonely One, 1968.

LPs

Janis Ian, Verve/Forecast, 1967.

For All the Seasons of Your Mind, Verve, 1968.

The Secret Life of J. Eddy Fink, Verve, 1968.

Who Really Cares, Verve, 1969.

Present Company, Capitol, 1971.

Stars, Columbia, 1974.

Between the Lines, Columbia, 1975.

Aftertones, Columbia, 1975.

Miracle Row, Columbia, 1977.

Janis Ian, Columbia, 1978.

Night Rains, Columbia, 1979.

Best of Janis Ian, Columbia, 1980.

Restless Eyes, Columbia, 1981.

Sources

Books

Stambler, Irwin, The Encyclopedia of Pop, Rock, and Soul, revised edition, St. Martins, 1989.

Periodicals

People, September 22, 1986.

Stereo Review, February 1980; October 1981.

Nancy Pear

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
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"Ian, Janis." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. 14 Dec. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Ian, Janis." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (December 14, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/ian-janis

"Ian, Janis." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved December 14, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/ian-janis