Singer, songwriter, guitarist
The voice can be a powerful instrument in music and social activism. For Joan Baez, through many years of performance, writing, and speaking out, the voice is a symbol of an individual’s power to effect change. She was born in Staten Island, New York, January 9, 1941, the daughter of Dr. Albert Baez, a physicist. Baez’s autobiography, And a Voice to Sing With, details her childhood as a faculty child in Ithaca, New York, and in Bagdad, Redlands, and Palo Alto, California, where she attended high school and began to play the guitar. Relocated to the Boston area, where her father had joined the faculty at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, she attended Boston University and began to perform professionally at small clubs, such as Tulla’s Coffee Grinder. Her two years of apprenticeship in the Boston area brought her to the attention of Bob Gibson, who invited her to participate in the 1959 Newport Folk Festival.
Baez began a long association with Vanguard Records, then America’s foremost folk label, in 1960 with her album Joan Baez. It brought acclaim and invitations to perform in folk clubs and concert halls throughout the college circuit and major cities. She soon became a symbol of the folk revival and was featured on the cover of Time. Her voice, described by Robert Shelton in a 1960 review of an early concert in the New York Times, was a “a soprano voice, surprisingly never trained, that has a purity, penetrating clarity and control that not a few art singers would envy. With seeming effortlessness, Miss Baez produced a purling, spun-gold tone particularly suited to the lyric Anglo-American songs and ballads that made up most of her program.” The phrase, “achingly pure soprano,” cited often by critics over the last 25 years, also dates from this first concert tour. She has denied the importance of the “purity” of her voice in interviews throughout her long career. In a 1963 article by Nat Hentoff, for example, she praised interpretation over mere quality: “I think of a rural folk singer—Doc Watson’s mother—whose voice might not seem beautiful to some people. But her voice has a straightness, an honesty, a purity. On the other hand, a voice may have all the tone quality and all the vibrato you could ask for, and yet it’ll sound so bland that it has no beauty at all.” Baez’s voice, her songs, guitar style, and even her long flowing hair set a pattern for a generation of young folk singers and balladeers. The hair was cut in 1968, and the soprano has darkened and mellowed but the influence remains strong.
Her tour of campuses was also noteworthy for Baez’s refusal to perform in segregated arenas and concert halls—a decision that led her to limit the Southern part of her tours to black colleges. Raised as a Quaker, she also refused to pay that part of her Federal Income Tax which, the Society of Friends believed, was used for
Born January 9, 1941, in Staten Island, N.Y.; daughter of Albert (a physicist) and Joan (Bridge) Baez; married David Harris (an anti-war activist), 1968 (divorced, 1971); children: Gabriel. Education: Attended Boston University. Politics: Pacifist. Religion: Quaker.
Began to play guitar in high school; in college, began to perform professionally at clubs in Boston, Mass.; began recording, 1959; has toured extensively throughout the world; president of Diamonds & Rust Productions, Inc., 1975—. Social activist; arrested and jailed for protests against the Vietnam war; founder of Resource Center for Nonviolence, 1965; active in Amnesty International, 1972—; founder and president of Humanitas International, 1979—.
Awards: Chicago Business Executives Move for Vietnam Peace Award, 1971; “Joan Baez Day” was established by city of Atlantic, Ga., 1975; Thomas Merton Award, 1976; Public Service Award, Third Annual Rock Music Awards, 1977; named best female vocalist, Bay Area Music Awards, 1978 and 1979; Earl Warren Civil Liberties Award, ACLU, 1979; honorary D.H.L., Antioch University and Rutgers University, 1980; Jefferson Award, 1980; Lennon Peace Tribute Award, 1982; Americans for Democratic Action award, 1982; SANE Education Fund Peace Award, 1983; Academie Charles Cros Award (France) for best live album, 1983.
Addresses: Office –Diamonds & Rust Productions, Inc., P.O. Box 1026, Menlo Park, CA 94026. Agent— Triad, 10100 Santa Monica Blvd., 16 Floor, Los Angeles, CA 90067.
military spending. Part of her income from performing and recording went to found the Institute for the Study of Nonviolence (now called the Resource Center for Nonviolence) in Carmel Valley, California. Her social activism also led to her support for the civil rights movement and its concurrent voting rights protests, as well as anti-war events around the world. She was arrested and jailed for non-violent protests of the Vietnam-era draft, as was her husband, David Harris, who spent much of their marriage in jail. Her focus throughout her life has been on nonviolent protest as a means of ending wars, war-related industries and national budgets, and discrimination. She has worked through Amnesty International since 1972 and Humanitas since its founding in 1979.
Although most of her audience supported the same beliefs that she did, Baez’s activities were often criticized publically by others. Her parodied but recognizable image was included in Al Capp’s “Li’l Abner” comic strip as “Joanie Phonie” in 1967. Also that year, in a move that reminded many of the banning of famed black soprano Marian Anderson thirty years earlier, she was denied permission by the Daughters of the American Revolution to perform in Constitution Hall (capacity: 3800), and so she appeared instead before a crowd of over 30,000 at the Washington Monument. Baez’s most controversial activity was her participation in a tour of (then North) Vietnam in 1972, which produced the album Where are You, My Son?
The almost continuous concert tours and recordings for a decade brought Baez and her message to an ever wider audience. In a 1979 joint interview with Judy Collins, she told the New York Times that performance and the message are interrelated: “The concert becomes a context of its own, and that’s what’s beautiful about being able to stand up there—that I can say what I want, put the songs where I want them and, hopefully, give people an evening of beautiful music as well.” She has appeared on most college campuses, in Carnegie Hall and major concert halls, and in outdoor festivals. Baez was one of only four musical acts that participated in both Woodstock, the defining event of the late 1960s music scene, and in LiveAid, the 1985 international rock concert to raise money for African relief, an irony that she described in her autobiography. Both events reached a wide audience—Woodstock became a film from Warner Brothers; LiveAid was broadcast on worldwide television. Many of Baez’s solo tours were also filmed as documentaries, among them, the Rolling Tunder Revue (with Bob Dylan, 1975) and Live Europe ’83, which produced a French television film and an award-winning album of the same name. A 1970 documentary, “Carry It On” covers her life at the time of Harris’s arrest, but also includes 13 songs in concerts.
The folk revival of the 1960’s brought widespread attention to traditional folk forms and to the young folksingers who were writing new music, most notably, Baez and Bob Dylan. They performed together often at the start of their careers, as in her 1963 Forest Hills Music Festival concert in New York at which she devoted half of the program to Dylan songs, sung by him, by her, and as duets. The New York Times review of that summer concert praised her programming decision: “To have her so closely align herself with Mr. Dylan’s charismatic poetry resulted in an unforgettable evening.” They also toured together in the mid-1970’s. Her performance of his “Blowin’ in the Wind,” was included on the Grammy Award presentations of 1983 as an example of “Music has a message.” Other Dylan songs, such as “That’s Allright” and “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall,” remain in her repertory.
Baez was criticized at the onset of her career for mixing her musical messages and not limiting herself to music on a specific theme or from a specific genre, as was traditional with folk singers in the 1950’s. she defended herself to Nat Hentoff in the November 1963 HiFi-Stereo Review: “[The historical] aspect of folk music has always been so secondary with me. It’s as if there were a mysterious string in me. If something I hear plucks that string, then I’ll sing that song. It can be funny or serious, or it can be in another language. I can’t analyze what qualities a song must have to do that to me.” This generalism has become a major selling point in her later career. Baez’s albums, like her concert appearances, always mix genres, including new songs (often about her son, Gabriel), American spirituals, Scottish hymns, and protest statements from different cultures. She has made recordings of folk songs paired with country-and-western numbers, as on her David’s Album, which featured “Carry It On,” as well as her popular cut of “Green Grass of Home.” She stresses ballads and anthems by her and other contemporary writers, such as Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne,” and Len-non/McCartney’s “Imagine” and “Long and Winding Road”; but also includes ballad standards from the 1940s and 1950s, including Julie London’s “Cry Me a River” on her Blowin’ Away album. Her music follows its sources into their music heritages, and she was one of the first American singers to perform reggae songs, like her 1983 “Warriors of the Sun,” Latin American non-salsa styles, and the now-popular new African genres.
A 1977 Village Voice feature suggested that Baez’s diversity had rescued her career and praised her use of rock-and-roll rhythms. In her 1987 Recently and on its tour, her repertory included, as it was described in the New York Times: “a spare, moving rendition of Dire straits’ pacifist hymn, ‘Brothers in Arms’, a version of the Marian Anderson staple, ‘Let Us Break Bread Together,’ that finds the singer buoyed by a gospel chorus, and two equally strong renditions of songs evoking the agony of South Africa: Peter Gabriel’s elegaic incantation ‘Biko’ and John Clegg’s passionate ‘Asimbonanga.’”
Baez’s “achingly pure soprano” has deepened into a “richer, more dramatic” and fluid alto in recent years. A New York Times review of a 1983 concert praised her rendition of the spiritual “Swing Low Sweet Chariot”: “Her rendition swept through two octaves with an authority and passion that few other singers could hope to muster.”
The dual role of Joan Baez as a performer and as, in the words of Rolling Stone’s John Grissim, Jr., “as a purveyor of an enjoined social consciousness and responsibility,” has given her a place in American music that supports her activism. Like Pete Seeger and the folk singers of the earlier generation, her voice is her conscience. But for Baez, like Marian Anderson, the quality of her vocal production brings authority to her message.
Joan Baez, Vanguard, 1960.
Joan Baez 2, Vanguard, 1961.
In Concert, Vanguard, 1962.
In Concert 2, Vanguard, 1963.
Joan Baez 5, Vanguard, 1964.
Farewell, Angelina, Vanguard, 1965.
Noel, Vanguard, 1966.
Portrait, Vanguard, 1966.
Joan, Vanguard, 1967.
Baptism, Vanguard, 1968.
Any Day Now, Vanguard, 1968.
David’s Album, Vanguard, 1969.
One Day at a Time, Vanguard, 1970.
First Ten Years, Vanguard, 1970.
Blessed Are, Vanguard, 1971.
Carry It On, Vanguard, 1972.
Come from the Shadows, A&M, 1972.
Where Are You Now, My Son?, A&M, 1973.
Gracias a la Vida (Here’s to Life), A&M, 1974.
Diamonds & Rust, A&M, 1975.
Live in Japan, Vanguard, 1975.
Love Song Album, Vanguard, 1976.
From Every Stage, A&M, 1976.
Gulf Winds, A&M, 1976.
Blowin’ Away, Portrait, 1977.
Golden Hour, Pye, 1972.
Hits: The Greatest and Others, Vanguard, 1973.
Best of Joan Baez, A&M, 1977.
Golden Hour 2, Pye.
House of the Rising Sun, Musidisc, 1978.
Honest Lulaby, Portrait, 1979.
Country Music, Vanguard, 1979.
Spotlight on Joan Baez, Portrait, 1980.
Live in Concert, Portrait, 1980.
The Magic of Joan Baez, K Tel, 1981.
Early Joan Baez I and II, Metronome.
Recently, Goldcastle, 1987.
Joan Baez in Concert, Vanguard, 1988.
Baez, Joan, And a Voice to Sing With, Summit Books, 1987.
Hi Fi/Stereo Review, November, 1963.
New York Times, November 7, 1960; August 19, 1963; March 14, 1966; July 6, 1979; November 18, 1983; July 8, 1987; October 12, 1987; November 21, 1987.
Rolling Stone, December 7, 1968.
Time, June 1, 1962; November 23, 1962.
Village Voice, May 30, 1977.
Born January 9, 1941
Staten Island, New York
American folk singer, songwriter, and activist
Throughout her career Joan Baez has used her talent and fame as a folk singer to bring attention to social causes, including ending world hunger and gaining civil rights for African Americans. During the Vietnam War, she focused her energy on protesting U.S. involvement in the conflict. By the late 1960s Baez was a well-known and highly influential anti-war activist. Her music and her visible presence at demonstrations encouraged many young Americans to speak out against the war. "Her songs . . . helped mobilize young people to take an interest in the world around them for the first time," Jeffrey Heller wrote in Joan Baez: Singer with a Cause.
Develops social conscience as a child
Joan Chandos Baez was born on January 9, 1941, in Staten Island, New York. She was the second of three daughters born to Alberto Vinicio Baez, who had moved to the United States from Mexico as a boy, and Joan Bridge Baez. Throughout her childhood, her family always pronounced their last name "BICE." But years later, as Joan gained attention as a folk singer, the media mispronounced her name as "BY-ezz." She did not bother to correct the error, and that is how she is known today.
Joan's father held a doctoral degree in physics. He could have earned a lot of money designing bombs and other weapons for the U.S. government. But he believed that war was wrong, so he took a lower-paying job as a college professor instead. "We would never have all the fine and useless things little girls want when they are growing up," Baez said of her father's career decision in her memoir A Voice to Sing With. "Instead we would have a father with a clear conscience. Decency would be his legacy to us."
In 1951 Alberto Baez took a job with the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The job involved building a physics lab in Baghdad, Iraq. Joan and her family spent a year in Baghdad, where they saw terrible poverty and hunger for the first time. In her memoir Baez recalled seeing "people rooting for food in our family garbage pails, and legless children dragging themselves along the streets on cardboard . . . begging for money." Her year in Iraq helped her develop great sympathy for poor and hungry people around the world.
When the Baez family returned to the United States, they settled in California. Joan began expressing her social and political views in school, and they did not always make her popular with fellow students. At this time, the United States and the Soviet Union were involved in an intense rivalry known as the Cold War. Both nations competed to increase their military strength and to spread their political influence around the world. Many Americans became caught up in the Cold War and strongly supported the government's efforts to wipe out communism.
But Baez felt that the United States would never achieve world peace by trying to build more destructive weapons than the Soviet Union. In high school she staged a personal protest against the country's military buildup. One day, her teacher informed the class that the school was conducting an air-raid drill. The school would pretend that the United States was coming under attack from Soviet missiles. The students were supposed to leave school calmly and return home. But Baez knew from her father that if a real attack occurred, the students would never have enough time to make it home from school. So in protest she refused to leave the classroom. The next day, she was featured in an article in the local newspaper.
Also during her high school years, Baez attended a student conference sponsored by the Society of Friends religious group. Also known as the Quakers, this group has traditionally opposed war. The featured speaker at the conference was civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. (see entry). Baez strongly agreed with King's ideas about achieving social change through nonviolent protest.
Becomes a well-known folk singer
As a girl, Baez took piano lessons and enjoyed listening to classical music with her family. But it was not until high school that she began concentrating on music. After failing to make her school's glee club, she practiced singing during her spare time. She also learned to play a miniature guitar called a ukelele (pronounced u-ka-LAY-lee). Before long, she was entertaining fellow students in the courtyard at school, doing impressions of popular singers, and appearing in school talent shows.
In 1958 Baez and her family moved back east to Boston, Massachusetts. Baez started college at Boston University, but she dropped out after a year. She found that she would rather spend her time singing and playing the guitar in Boston coffee houses. Baez grew her hair long, wore colorful Mexican blouses, and often appeared barefoot on stage. She sang traditional folk songs of Europe and the United States, as well as original songs about problems in American society. She quickly developed a large following of fans in Boston. In 1959 she was invited to appear at the first annual Newport Folk Festival in Rhode Island. The following year, she recorded her first album, Joan Baez. It soon became the third most popular album in the United States.
As the popularity of folk music spread across the country, Baez became a symbol of the folk movement and the growing hippie culture. She even appeared on the cover of Time magazine. "In the book of my destiny the first page had been turned," she recalled. "This book could no longer be exchanged for any other."
While her popularity as a musician grew, Baez remained committed to the cause of social change. For example, she continued to support Martin Luther King, Jr., in his fight to gain equal rights and opportunities for African Americans. At this time, parts of the United States had laws that segregated (separated) people by race. White people and "colored" people were required to use separate restrooms, drinking fountains, schools, theaters, and restaurants. These laws, called Jim Crow laws, discriminated against blacks and placed them in an inferior position in society.
During a concert tour of southern states in 1962, Baez refused to perform anywhere that did not allow black people. She also appeared at several African American churches and sang "We Shall Overcome," which became a theme song of the civil rights movement. In 1963 Baez sang at the rally in Washington, D.C., where King gave his famous "I Have a Dream" speech.
Joins the antiwar movement
Throughout the early 1960s, the United States became more and more involved in the conflict in Vietnam. The Vietnam War pitted the Communist nation of North Vietnam and its secret allies, the South Vietnamese Communists known as the Viet Cong, against the U.S.-supported nation of South Vietnam. North Vietnam wanted to overthrow the South Vietnamese government and reunite the two countries under one Communist government. But U.S. government officials felt that a Communist government in Vietnam would increase the power of the Soviet Union and threaten the security of the United States. In the late 1950s and early 1960s the U.S. government sent money, weapons, and military advisors to help South Vietnam defend itself. In 1965 President Lyndon Johnson (see entry) sent American combat troops to join the fight on the side of South Vietnam.
But deepening U.S. involvement in the war failed to defeat the Communists. Instead, the war turned into a bloody stalemate. The American public became bitterly divided about how to proceed in Vietnam, and antiwar demonstrations took place across the country. Like many other Americans, Baez felt that the U.S. government's actions were wrong. She did not think that the United States should interfere with the reunification of Vietnam. Instead, she believed that the Vietnamese people should be allowed to decide their own future. As U.S. involvement increased to all-out war against North Vietnam, Baez joined the antiwar movement.
As one form of protest, Baez refused to pay 60 percent of her federal taxes. She chose this number because she estimated that 60 percent of the money the government received in taxes was used for military purposes. Baez knew that failing to pay taxes could result in severe financial penalties and even time in prison, but she wanted to make a statement. She did not want the U.S. government to use her money to pay for what she believed was an immoral war in Vietnam. The Internal Revenue Service (the government agency that collects taxes) eventually claimed her house, car, and concert earnings as a penalty for her unpaid taxes. Still, Baez continued her protest for ten years.
Baez also appeared on many television talk shows to share her views on U.S. involvement in Vietnam. She believed that she had a responsibility to use her celebrity to make a difference. "I must be ready not to die for something, but to live for it, which is really much harder," she explained in a letter to her parents in 1965. "I have a choice of things to do with my life. I think it is time to charge in head first. I want to start a peace movement." Toward that end, she founded the Institute for the Study of Nonviolence in California.
In 1967 Baez released one of her best-known albums,Joan. It included a mixture of traditional folk songs, antiwar songs, and versions of modern pop songs by artists like Paul Simon and the Beatles. Later that year, she was arrested at an antiwar demonstration that encouraged young men to refuse to be drafted into the U.S. military. While she was in jail, Baez met fellow antiwar activist David Harris. The two were married in March 1968. Just over a year later, Harris was sentenced to a term in prison for draft evasion.
In the summer of 1969 Baez performed at Woodstock—a weekend-long concert and party in upstate New York that attracted 250,000 fans. Her son, Gabriel, was born shortly afterwards. But her marriage broke up when her husband got out of prison. "We split up, when we did, because I couldn't breathe," she recalled, "and because I belonged alone, which is how I have been since then, with occasional interruptions."
Travels to Southeast Asia to witness the effects of the war
In 1972 Baez and several other American antiwar activists were invited to visit Hanoi, the capital of Communist North Vietnam. She agreed to go to Hanoi because she wanted to see how the North Vietnamese people were coping during the war. She made the trip even though some people criticized her decision and called her a traitor or a Communist. During her time in Hanoi, Baez was caught in a series of American bombing raids. She recorded many sounds of her experience, including planes flying overhead, air-raid sirens, bombs exploding, Vietnamese voices, songs, and even a church service. When she returned to the United States, she incorporated these sounds into an album of poetry and songs called Where Are You Now, My Son.
The U.S. government withdrew the last American troops from Vietnam in 1973. Two years later, North Vietnam captured the South Vietnamese capital of Saigon to win the war. After the war ended, many American musicians turned their focus away from songs of social protest and began focusing on their inner thoughts and feelings. As a result, Baez's folk songs seemed to fall behind the times. In 1975 she recorded a more upbeat album on the advice of her record company. This album, Diamonds and Rust, included covers of songs by Jackson Browne, Stevie Wonder, and the Allman Brothers.
Through the late 1970s Baez continued performing in concerts around the world to spread her message of peace and human rights. She also became active in the humanitarian organization Amnesty International and helped organize chapters in California. In 1979 Baez grew concerned about conditions in Vietnam and Southeast Asia. Vietnam's Communist government had put many of its political opponents in prison or sent them away to "reeducation" camps. In fact, conditions in Vietnam had become so bad that thousands of Vietnamese people fled the country as refugees. Baez wrote an open letter to the Vietnamese government, asking for an end to the repression (the denial of basic rights).
Later that year, Baez organized a trip to Southeast Asia. With a group of American reporters and photographers, she visited refugee camps in northern Thailand. She met with many refugees from Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos and heard stories about how they had been imprisoned and tortured by their countries' new Communist governments. Upon returning home, Baez formed a group called Humanitas to raise money for food and medical supplies for the refugees.
In the 1980s folk music came back into style, and Baez regained some of her popularity as a singer and performer. In 1985 she was selected to open Live Aid, a huge benefit concert event that attracted 90,000 spectators and a worldwide television audience. Live Aid eventually raised $70 million to fight world hunger. Baez continued to perform in the 1990s. Many people still consider her a symbol of how an individual can create social change. "I do think of myself as a symbol," she noted in her memoir, "of following through on your beliefs, using your talents to do so."
Baez, Joan. And a Voice to Sing With. New York: Summit Books, 1978.
Baez, Joan. Daybreak. New York: Dial Press, 1968.
Heller, Jeffrey. Joan Baez: Singer with a Cause. Chicago: Children's Press, 1991.
Loder, Kurt. "Joan Baez: The Rolling Stone Interview." Rolling Stone, April 14, 1983.
Robbins, Mary Susannah, ed. Against the Vietnam War: Writings by Activists. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1999.
Sager, Mike. "Joan Baez." Rolling Stone, November 15, 1987.
Phil Ochs (1940–1976)
One of the best-known singers and writers of antiwar protest songs during the Vietnam War was Phil Ochs. Ochs was born on December 19, 1940, in El Paso, Texas. Growing up in New York and Ohio, he learned to play the clarinet and showed a great deal of musical talent. He first began writing songs as a student at Ohio State University. He also became interested in journalism during his college days and published a radical student newspaper. He left the university a few credits short of graduation when his political views prevented him from becoming editor of the official school newspaper.
In the early 1960s Ochs decided to focus on music rather than journalism. He based his decision on the advice of union organizer and songwriter Joe Hill, who said that "a pamphlet, no matter how good, is never read more than once, but a song is learned by heart and repeated over and over." Ochs took up the guitar and began playing at folk clubs in New York City, alongside such rising stars as Joan Baez and Bob Dylan. In 1963 he appeared at the prestigious Newport Folk Festival in Rhode Island.
Ochs released his first album, All the News That's Fit to Sing, in 1964. A review in Rolling Stone magazine called it "a manifesto of social urgency." But it was his second album, I Ain't Marchin' Anymore, that brought him to national attention. The title track became a theme song of the antiwar movement. For the next few years, Ochs was a fixture at antiwar rallies, folk festivals, and benefit concerts around the United States. Each time he performed, he encouraged his audience to protest against the Vietnam War and support the civil rights movement.
Not everyone appreciated the messages of protest contained in Ochs' songs. Some people felt that his views were radical and un-American. The U.S. government watched him closely and even banned him from appearing on television for several years. He also received several death threats. But Ochs viewed himself as a patriotic person. He claimed that his songs were intended to pressure America to live up to the principles on which it was founded.
During the late 1960s Ochs grew increasingly disillusioned with American society. As he became less hopeful about the possibility of seeing positive changes, he also lost confidence in his singing and song writing abilities. He began drinking heavily and slipped into depression. Ochs released his last studio album, Greatest Hits, in 1970. He committed suicide on April 9, 1976, in Far Rockaway, New York. A number of well-known musicians organized a tribute concert three months after his death at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
Born: January 9, 1941
Staten Island, New York
American musician, singer, and activist
American folk singer Joan Baez is recognized for her nonviolent, antiestablishment (against a nation's political and economic structure), and anti-war positions. She has used her singing and speaking talents to criticize violations of human rights in a number of countries.
Joan Baez was born on January 9, 1941, in Staten Island, New York. Her father, Albert V. Baez, was a physicist who came to the United States from Mexico at a very early age, and her mother was of western European descent. Joan inherited her father's dark complexion, and the occasional racial prejudice (hatred of a race) she suffered as a child probably led to her later involvement in the civil rights movement, a movement that called for equal rights for all races. Although as an adult she claimed not to share her parents' strict religious faith, it undoubtedly contributed to what some called her keen "social conscience."
Baez was exposed to an intellectual atmosphere with classical music during her childhood, but rejected piano lessons in favor of the guitar and rock and roll. Her father's research and teaching positions took the family to various American and foreign cities. When Joan was ten, she spent a year in Iraq with her family. There she was exposed to the harsh and intensely poor conditions of the Iraqi people, something that undoubtedly had an affect on her later career as a singer and activist. Baez went on to attend high school in Palo Alto, California, where she excelled in music more than in academic subjects. Shortly after her high school graduation in 1958, her family moved to Boston, Massachusetts, where Baez's interest in folk music surfaced after visiting a coffee shop where amateur folk singers performed.
From Boston coffeehouses to Newport,
Baez briefly attended Boston University, where she made friends with several semi-professional folk singers from whom she learned much about the art. In addition to simple folk songs, she began to sing Anglo American ballads, blues, spirituals, and songs from various countries. As she worked to develop her technique and range of songs, Baez began to perform professionally in Boston coffeehouses and quickly became a favorite of Harvard University students. She was also noticed by other folk singers, including Harry Belafonte (1927–), who offered her a job with his singing group.
In the summer of 1959 Baez was invited to sing at the Newport Folk Festival in Rhode Island. This performance made her a star—especially to young people—and led to friendships with other important folk singers such as the Seeger family and Odetta. Although the performance brought her offers to make recordings and concert tours, she decided to resume her Boston coffee shop appearances.
After Baez's second Newport appearance in 1960, she made her first album for Vanguard Records. Simply labeled Joan Baez, it was an immediate success. She was then such a "hot item" that she could choose her own songs and prop designs for her performances. In the following years Baez sang to capacity crowds on American college campuses and concert halls and on several foreign tours. Her eight gold albums and one gold single demonstrated her popularity as a singer.
Politics a source of controversy
While many critics agreed that Baez's untrained singing voice was unusually haunting, beautiful, and very soothing, they saw her spoken words, lifestyle, and actions as conflicting and sometimes anti-American. In the changing world of the1960s, Baez became a center of controversy (open to dispute) when she used her singing and speaking talents to urge nonpayment of taxes used for war purposes and to urge men to resist the draft during the Vietnam War (1965–73; when the United States aided South Vietnam's fight against North Vietnam). She helped block induction centers (which brought in new recruits) and was twice arrested for such violations of the law.
Baez was married to writer and activist David Harris in March 1968. She was pregnant with their son, Gabriel, in April 1969, and three months later she saw her husband arrested for refusing induction into the military forces. He spent the next twenty months in a federal prison in Texas.
In the early 1970s Baez began to speak with greater harshness. By the end of the decade she had offended dozens of her former peace-activist allies—such as Jane Fonda (1937–) and attorney William Kunstler—with her views on postwar Vietnam. As she had done in the case of Chile and Argentina (without public outcries from former associates), Baez called for human rights to be extended to those centers in the war-torn country.
Baez's career through the 1980s and 1990s
In later years Baez's singing career faltered despite various attempts to revive it. Her 1985 effort featured a more conventional hairstyle and attire. Her supporters believed she would regain her prominence in the entertainment industry because her voice, although deeper, had the same qualities that made her so successful earlier. Meanwhile, she was quite busy throughout the world as the head of the Humanitas International Human Rights Committee, which concentrated on distracting (in any possible nonviolent way) those whom it believed exercised unauthorized power.
Baez has continued to make music and to influence younger performers. In 1987 Baez released Recently, her first studio solo album in eight years. She was nominated for a 1988 Best Contemporary Folk Recording Grammy Award for "Asimbonanga," a song from the album. Also in 1988 Baez recorded Diamonds and Rust in the Bullring in Bilbao, Spain. The album was released the following April. In 1990 Baez toured with the Indigo Girls and the threesome were recorded for a Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) video presentation, "Joan Baez In Concert." In 1993 two more Baez recordings were released: Play Me Backwards, consisting of new material; and Rare, Live & Classic, a collection of her career from 1958 to 1989, featuring twenty-two previously unreleased tracks. Baez released Gone from Danger in 1997 and Farewell Angelina in 2002.
The singer's interest in politics and human rights has continued as well. In 1993 she was invited by Refugees International to travel to Bosnia-Herzegovina in order to help bring attention to the suffering there. In September of that same year Baez became the first major artist to perform in a professional concert on Alcatraz Island (the former Federal Penitentiary) in San Francisco, California. It was a benefit performance for her sister Mimi Farina's organization, Bread & Roses. She returned to the island for a second benefit in 1996 along with the Indigo Girls and Dar Williams. She has also supported the gay and lesbian cause. In 1995 she joined Janis Ian in a performance at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force's Fight the Right fundraising event in San Francisco.
In 2001 Farrar, Straus, and Giroux released Positively Fourth Street by David Hajdu. The book is an intimate portrait that explores the relationships between Joan, Mimi Farina, Richard Farina, and fellow folkster Bob Dylan (1941–) during New York City's folk scene of the early 1960s.
For More Information
Baez, Joan. And a Voice to Sing With. New York: Summit Books, 1987.
Garza, Hedda. Joan Baez. New York: Chelsea House, 1991.
American folk singer Joan Baez (born 1941) was recognized for her non-violent, anti-establishment, and anti-war positions. She used her singing and speaking talents to denounce violations of human rights in a number of countries.
By the age of 22, Joan Baez was already known as the "queen of folk singers." Her rich and varied early experiences contributed significantly to her later "anti-establishment" attitudes. Her father, Albert V. Baez, was a physicist who came to the United States from Mexico at a very early age, and her mother was of West-European descent. Joan inherited her father's dark complexion, and the occasional racial prejudice she suffered as a child probably led to her later involvement in the civil rights movement. Although as an adult she claimed not to share her parents' Quaker faith, it undoubtedly contributed to what some called her keen "social conscience."
One of three sisters, Baez was born on January 9, 1941, in Staten Island, New York. She was exposed to an intellectual atmosphere with classical music during her childhood, but rejected piano lessons in favor of the guitar and rock and roll.
Her father's research and teaching positions took the family to various American and foreign cities. She attended high school in Palo Alto, California, where she excelled in music more than in academic subjects. Shortly after her high school graduation in 1958, her family moved to Boston where Baez's interest in folk music surfaced after visiting a coffeeshop where amateur folk singers performed.
From Boston Coffee Houses to Newport
She briefly attended Boston University where she made friends with several semi-professional folk singers from whom she learned much about the art. In addition to simple folk songs, she began to sing Anglo-American ballads, blues, spirituals, and songs from various countries. As she worked to develop her technique and repertoire, Baez began to perform professionally in Boston coffeehouses and quickly became a favorite of Harvard students. She was also noticed by other folk singers, including Harry Belafonte, who offered her a job with his singing group.
In the summer of 1959 she was invited to sing at the Newport (Rhode Island) Folk Festival. That performance made her a soaring phenomenon—especially to young people—and led to friendships with other important folk singers such as the Seeger family and Odetta. Although that performance brought her offers to make recordings and concert tours, she decided to resume her Boston coffeeshop appearances.
After her second Newport appearance in 1960, Baez made her first album for Vanguard Records, simply labelled Joan Baez, which was an immediate success. She was then such a "hot item" that she could tell CBS what songs she would sing and what props she would use in her appearance. In the following years Baez sang to capacity crowds on American college campuses and concert halls and on several foreign tours. Her eight gold album and one gold single awards attested to her popularity as a singer.
Her soprano voice has been described as "so clear and so luminously sensual that it reminded everyone of their first loves." She had no need to take lessons to enhance her voice, which ranged over three octaves, but she needed practice in order to achieve command of the guitar.
Politics a Source of Controversy
While many critics agreed that her untrained singing voice was unusually haunting, beautiful, and very soothing, they saw her spoken words, lifestyle, and actions as discordant and sometimes anti-American. In the turbulent 1960s, Baez became a center of controversy when she used her singing and speaking talents to urge non-payment of taxes used for war purposes and to urge men to resist the draft during the Vietnam War. She helped block induction centers and was twice arrested for such violations of the law. She had already studied, understood, and adopted non-violent strategies as a way to effect changes where she perceived injustices to exist.
She was married to David Harris, a draft resister, in March 1968. She was pregnant with their son, Gabriel, in April 1969 and three months later saw her husband arrested for refusing induction into the military forces. (He spent the next 20 months in a federal prison in Texas.)
Baez Creates A Stir Among American Left
In the early 1970s, Baez began to speak with less stridence and by the end of the decade had offended dozens of her former peace-activist allies, such as Jane Fonda and attorney William Kunstler, when she publicly denounced the atrocities in Vietnam's Communist "re-education" centers. As she had done in the case of Chile and Argentina (without public outcries from former associates), Baez called for human rights to be extended to those centers in post-war Vietnam. Although her position seemed similar to that of Western intellectuals, it nevertheless created a stir among the American left (some of whom called for her own re-education). When some asked what right any American had to criticize the Communist government for anything it was doing after what the United States had done to the Vietnamese, she responded: "The same right we have to help anyone anywhere who is a prisoner of conscience."
Baez' Career Through the 1980s and '90s
In later years Baez' singing career faltered despite various attempts to revive it. Her 1985 effort featured a more conventional hairstyle and attire. Her supporters believed she would regain her prominence in the entertainment industry because her voice, although deeper, retained the same qualities which earlier made her so successful. Meanwhile, she was quite busy throughout the world as the head of the Humanitas International Human Rights Committee, which concentrated on distracting (in any possible non-violent way) those whom it believed exercised illegitimate power.
Baez has continued to make music and to influence younger performers. In 1987, Baez released Recently, her first studio solo album in eight years. She was nominated for a 1988 Best Contemporary Folk Recording Grammy Award for the song "Asimbonanga" from the album. Also in 1988, Baez recorded Diamonds and Rust in the Bullring in Bilbao, Spain. The album was released the following April. In 1990, Baez toured with the Indigo Girls and the threesome were recorded for a PBS video presentation, Joan Baez In Concert. In 1991, she released a compilation album, Brothers In Arms, featuring two new tracks. In 1993, two more Baez recordings were released: Play Me Backwards, consisting of new material; and Rare, Live & Classic, a retrospective of her career from 1958 to 1989, featuring 22 previously unreleased tracks. Another compilation CD, Live At Newport, containing previously unreleased performances from the 1963, 1964 and 1965 Newport Folk Festivals was released by Vanguard records in 1996. Baez released another solo album, Gone from Danger, in early 1997.
The singer's interest in politics and human rights has continued as well. In 1993, she was invited by Refugees International to travel to Bosnia-Herzegovina in order to help bring attention to the suffering there. In September of that same year, Baez became the first major artist to perform in a professional concert on Alcatraz Island (the former Federal Penitentiary) in San Francisco to benefit her sister Mimi Farina's organization, Bread & Roses. She returned to the island for a second benefit in 1996 along with the Indigo Girls and Dar Williams. She has also supported the gay and lesbian cause, joining Janis Ian in a performance at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force's Fight the Right fund-raising event in San Francisco in 1995.
Bits of biographical data about Joan Baez may be found in her book Daybreak (1968) and in Coming Out (1971), which she co-authored with husband, David Harris. The latter chronicles a brief period after Harris's release from prison for draft evasion. The best sources for additional information about her anti-war activities are news and popular periodicals from 1968 to 1977.
Baez's 1987 autobiography, And A Voice To Sing With, isan excellent source of information as well. Other current sources include the January 17, 1997 issue of Goldmine in which she is profiled in an extensive 14-page cover story by Bill Carpenter.
Baez can be found on the web at http://baez.woz.org and on the A&E Biography site at http://www.biography.com/find/find.html. □
Baez, Joan, sweet-voiced folksinger of the 1960s; b. Staten Island, N.Y., Jan. 9, 1941. Joan Baez started performing in public, accompanying herself on guitar, at small clubs around Cambridge and Boston in the late 1950s and soon graduated to N.Y.’s Greenwich Village. Successful appearances at the 1959 and 1960 Newport Folk Festivals followed, with Baez moving to Calif, in 1961. She met Bob Dylan in April 1961 at Gerde’s Folk City in Greenwich Village and spent considerable time with him between 1963 and 1965. Her first three albums consisted of standard folk fare, primarily traditional English and American ballads, and her second, Volume 2, proved her commercial breakthrough. Her fourth album, In Concert, Part 2, featured “We Shall Overcome,” the song that became the protest anthem of the 1960s. That and subsequent albums contained her versions of songs by then-unrecognized folk artists such as Dylan (“Don’t Think Twice,” “It’s All over Now, Baby Blue,” and others) and Phil Ochs (“There but for Fortune”). In June 1965, she established the Inst. for the Study of Nonviolence in Carmel, Calif., beginning a lifelong commitment to nonviolence and protest.
With 1967’s Joan, Joan Baez began recording songs by contemporary songwriters such as Tim Hardin (“If I Were a Carpenter”), Simon and Garfunkel, and Lennon and McCartney. Between 1968 and 1973, she recorded six albums in Nashville. Any Day Now, released in 1969, was a double-record set comprised entirely of songs by Bob Dylan. One Day at a Time included the labor anthem “Joe Hill,” Jagger and Richards’ “No Expectations,” and Steve Young’s “Seven Bridges Road.” She also covered material by songwriters such as Willie Nelson, Hoyt Axton, and John Prine, achieving her only major hit in 1971 with Robbie Robertson’s “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.”
Baez began writing her own songs in the early 1970s and signed with A&M Records in May 1972. She placed six of her songs on Come from the Shadows, including the undisguised “To Bobby,” as well as sister Mimi Farina’s “In the Quiet Morning.” Her 1975 Diamonds and Rust album contained her own compositions “Winds of the Old Days” and the hit title song, plus John Prine’s “Hello in There” and Janis Ian’s “Jesse.” During 1975 and 1976, she toured with Bob Dylan’s curious Rolling Thunder Revue. After two final albums for A&M, she switched to Portrait Records (reissued on Epic) for Blowin Away and Honest Lullaby.
Joan Baez confirmed her commitment to humanitarian causes with the 1979 formation of the human rights organization, Humanitas International. During the 1980s, she toured internationally in support of human rights organizations, including Poland’s Solidarity movement and Palestinian civil disobedience groups. In 1985, she sang on the Amnesty International tour and appeared at Live Aid. Her second autobiography, And a Voice to Sing With, was published in 1987. That same year she began recording for the small Gold Castle label. In 1992, in order to reinvigorate her musical career, Baez ceased operation of Humanitas International. She recorded her first major label release in 13 years, Play Me Backwards, for Virgin and later recorded Ring Them Bells for Guardian Records.
One of the finest female vocalists to emerge from the early 1960s folk scene, Joan Baez was the first folk singer of the era to achieve massive international success. One of the first solo folk singers to record best-selling albums of traditional folk material, she subsequently helped introduce Bob Dylan to a wider audience as she became one of the first folk singers to become involved with protest movements. Associated with the protest classic, “We Shall Overcome,” Baez later enjoyed popularity as a song interpreter before emerging as a singer-songwriter, particularly with 1975’s Diamonds and Rust album. Although accorded star status in Europe, she was reduced to mere celebrity status in the U.S. and remained without an American record label for much of the 1980s. While continuing to involve herself with international protest and freedom movements in the 1990s, Baez recorded only sporadically.
Daybreak (N.Y., Dial Press, 1968); And a Voice to Sing With: A Memoir (N.Y., Summit Books, 1987).
Joan Baez (1960); Volume 2 (1961); In Concert (1962); In Concert, Part 2 (1963); Five (1964); Farewell Angelina (1965); Noel (1966); Joan (1967); Baptism (1968); Any Day Now (1968); David’s Album (1969); One Day at a Time (1970); Blessed Are... (1971); Carry It On (soundtrack) (1971); Come from the Shadows (1972); Where Are You Now, My Son (1973); Gracias a la Vida—Here’s to Life (1974); Diamonds and Rust (1975); From Every Stage (1976); Gulf Winds (1976); Blowin’ Away (1977); Honest Lullaby (1979); Recently (1987); Diamonds and Rust in the Bullring (1989); Speaking of Dreams (1989); Brothers in Arms (1991); Play Me Backwards (1992); Ring Them Bells (1995).
H. Garza, Joan Baez (N.Y., 1991).