The Life and Music of Joan Baez

The sixties produced some of the most beloved artists of all time like the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Santana, and Joan Baez. While she may not be internationally recognized as these bigger acts, the music of Joan Baez is still as vital as it’s always been. In fact, Joan Baez was credited with helping to launch Bob Dylan’s career.

Baez was born to Albert and Joan Baez on January 9, 1941, in Staten Island, New York. She was the youngest of three sisters and spent her early life moving around multiple countries due to the nature of her father’s job. Her first instrument was a ukulele and she began playing rhythm and blues songs. When she was 8 years old, she attended a concert by folk singer Pete Seeger which inspired her to play folk music.

In 1958, the family moved to Massachusetts, where she began busking around Boston and Cambridge. Her first concert was given at Club 47 that year and she recorded a few songs for an independent CD. Bob Gibson invited her to perform at the 1959 Newport Folk Festival and once she did, she earned immediate attention. The following year, she was signed to Vanguard Records, which launched her career.

Her first album, Joan Baez, was released in 1960, a mix of folk ballads and blues music that sold well. Later, Joan Baez, Vol. 2, Joan Baez in Concert Part 1 and Part 2 went gold. However, her true success came when her single “There but for Fortune” became a hit in the UK in 1965. She soon put out five more albums: Noel, a Christmas record in 1966, Joan in 1967, Baptism: A Journey through Our Time, Any Day Now in 1968, and David’s Album in 1969. She also appeared at Woodstock and released a memoir.

In 1971, Baez cut ties with Vanguard after Blessed Are…was released, which spawned the hit "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down". She signed with A&M records and put out Come from the Shadows. Two of her songs were featured in 1972’s Silent Running as well.

Joan Baez is also known as an activist. After hearing Martin Luther King speak in 1956, she was forever changed. At age 16, she staged a sit-in at her school and later took up civil rights as a cause. She performed “We Shall Overcome” at MLK’s March on Washing for Jobs and Freedom in 1963 and she recorded songs for use in anti-violence documentaries. A great supporter of desegregation, she stood alongside Cesar Chavez in 1966 when he went to the fields of farm workers fighting for wages, and she regularly participated in anti-war marches and rallies. Baez is also an activist for gay and lesbian rights and environmental causes.

Baez is still a presence in the music world. In 2007, she received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. She released an album called Day After Tomorrow in September 2008 and in 2009, she returned to the Newport Folk Festival. She continues to make her presence known in the world.