Sunday, July 29, 2007
Joan Baez (1941)
You don't get to choose how you are going to die or when. You can only decide how you're going to live.
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Joan Baez was born in Staten Island, New York, into a Quaker family. Her father Albert Baez, a physicist, refused lucrative war industry jobs, probably influencing Joan's political activism in the American and international civil rights and anti-war movements of the 1960's to the present. In the late 1950s, Dr. Baez accepted a faculty position at MIT, and moved his family to the Boston area, at the time the epicenter of the up-and-coming folk music scene, and Joan began performing locally in Boston/Cambridge area clubs.
Her most noted venue was the Club 47 Mount Auburn, in Cambridge, where she performed twice a week for $20 per show. It was with other performers from the same club that she recorded her first album, Folksingers 'Round Harvard Square.
Baez' true professional career began at the 1959 Newport Folk Festival and she recorded her first album for a major company, Joan Baez, the following year on Vanguard Records. The collection of traditional folk ballads, blues and laments sung to her own guitar accompaniment sold moderately well. Her second release, Joan Baez, Vol. 2 in 1961 went gold, as did 1962's Joan Baez in Concert, parts 1 and 2. From the early to mid-1960s, Baez emerged at the forefront of the American roots revival, where she introduced her audiences to the less prominent Bob Dylan (the two became romantically involved in late 1962, remaining together through early 1965), and was emulated by artists such as Joni Mitchell and Bonnie Raitt.
During this period, as the war in Vietnam and the Civil Rights struggle in the American south both became more prominent issues, Baez focused more of her attention on both areas, until eventually her music and her political involvement became inseperable. Her performance of "We Shall Overcome" at Martin Luther King's March on Washington permanently linked her with the anthem, and she frequently joined Civil Rights marches in the south. She also became more vocal about her disagreement with the U.S. war in Vietnam, publicly disclosing that she was withholding sixty percent of her income taxes (as that was the figure commonly determined to fund the military), and encouraging draft resistance at her concerts. In 1965 she founded the Institute for the Study of Nonviolence.
Like Dylan, Baez was profoundly influenced by the British Invasion and began augmenting her acoustic guitar on 1965's Farewell Angelina just after Dylan began experimenting with folk-rock. Later in the decade, Baez experimented with poetry (1968's Baptism: A Journey Through Our Time) and country music (1969's David's Album and 1970's One Day at a Time).
In 1968, Baez married David Harris, a prominent anti-Vietnam War protester eventually imprisoned for draft evasion. The couple divorced in 1973. Harris, a country music fan, turned Baez toward more complex country rock influences beginning with David's Album. That same year, Baez' appearance at the historic Woodstock music festival in upstate New York afforded her an international musical and political podium, particularly upon the successful release of the like-titled documentary film. Her 1971 cover of The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down by (The Band) was a top 10 hit in the US.
Meanwhile, Baez' political involvement had by no means ceased. During Christmas of 1972, she joined a peace delegation traveling to North Vietnam, both to address human rights in the region, as well as to deliver Christmas mail to American POW's. During her time there, she was caught in Richard Nixon's "Christmas bombing" of Hanoi, during which the city was carpet bombed for eleven straight days. She also devoted a substantial amount of her time in the early 1970s to helping establish a U.S. branch of Amnesty International, and has since worked on improving human rights, both in Latin America and Southeast Asia.
With 1972's Come from the Shadows, Baez switched to A&M Records, flirting with mainstream pop music as well as writing her own songs for her best-selling 1975 release Diamonds & Rust. She then switched to CBS Records briefly, but found herself without an American label for 1984's Live -Europe '83. She didn't have an American release until 1987's Recently on Gold Castle Records, and then switched to Virgin Records for 1992's Play Me Backwards. Her 2003 album, Dark Chords on a Big Guitar, found her performing songs by composers half her age.
Baez played a significant role in the 1985 Live Aid concert for African famine relief, opening the U.S. segment of the show in Philadelphia. She also has toured on behalf of many other causes, including Amnesty International.
She has one son, Gabriel Harris, and lives in Woodside, California.
Joan Baez is not to be confused with the mathematician John Baez, her cousin. Her sister was the singer and guitarist Mimi Farina (born Margarita Mimi Baez [1945-2001]).
Baez toured with Bob Dylan in 1964 and 1965, during his 1975 and 1976 Rolling Thunder Revue tours, and, abortively, in Europe in 1984. [This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License and uses material adapted in whole or in part from the Wikipedia article on Joan Baez.]