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Baez, Joan

folk albums protest songs

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 withinternational protest and freedom movements in the 1990s, Baez recorded only sporadically.

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