Joan Baez

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Dubliners! Go see tour ass't & vocalist @GraceStumberg at @whelanslive on 9/23, 9pm, no cover. You won't be sorry.


At a Glance

Birthname: Joan Chandos Baez
Nationality: American
Born: Jan 09 1941


Biography

How do you build a narrative for a story as rich and multifaceted as the life of Joan Baez? Baez herself is not especially inclined to introspection, or to the backwards glance. Often wrongly perceived as a naïve idealist, she is, in her own distinctive way, a pragmatist to the core with her eyes fixed squarely on what’s right in front of her. As an activist, she has viewed her life not so much as a matter of choices but of very clear imperatives.

When the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. needed support on the dangerous front lines of the civil rights movement, what person of good conscience ... Read more

How do you build a narrative for a story as rich and multifaceted as the life of Joan Baez? Baez herself is not especially inclined to introspection, or to the backwards glance. Often wrongly perceived as a naïve idealist, she is, in her own distinctive way, a pragmatist to the core with her eyes fixed squarely on what’s right in front of her. As an activist, she has viewed her life not so much as a matter of choices but of very clear imperatives.

When the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. needed support on the dangerous front lines of the civil rights movement, what person of good conscience could refuse his call? When the Vietnam War was condemning tens of thousands of American soldiers and hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese citizens to violent death, who of sound mind wouldn’t do everything in her power to bring the war to an end? In Cambodia, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Chile and the United States, wherever a voice needed to be raised against oppression and brute force, Joan Baez has stood firm. To her those actions, so brave, principled and inspiring to the rest of us, were simply what had to be done.

That is the story told in the gripping PBS American Masters documentary “Joan Baez: How Sweet the Sound,” for which I conducted many hours of interviews with Baez herself and with people who know her well and to whom she means a great deal. It is a biographical story, and an outstanding one. The film’s soundtrack, however, tells its own compelling musical story. On the most superficial level, Baez’s peerless artistry provided her with a platform for her activism. It is why people cared what she thought about militarism, nuclear proliferation, nonviolence and human rights. After the release of her first album in 1960, when she was not yet twenty, Baez became a superstar; she even landed on the cover of Time Magazine in 1962. She immediately began to use her fame as a vehicle for her politics, and blazed a trail for the many musicians who would follow her in succeeding decades.

But even if Baez herself, as she bluntly states in the documentary, was often willing to let her singing take a backseat to her activism, that doesn’t mean that we, her audience, are obligated to view her in similar terms. In fact, that would do both her artistry and her activism a disservice. This soundtrack and the film itself make clear the deep, complex ways in which Baez’s music and her public and personal lives are inextricably bound to each other.

Baez emerged out of the folk music scene in Boston in the late Fifties, and the three rare tracks recorded by a family friend at Club 47, where she got her start, reveal how fully formed her gifts were from the very first. She comes to traditional folk ballads like “Barbara Allen” and “I Will Never Marry,” as well as later performances like “Fennario” (an outtake from footage director Murray Lerner shot for his groundbreaking 1967 documentary Festival) and “Silver Dagger” (from an early Sixties BBC broadcast), with an intuitive understanding of the painful, even harrowing, stories they chronicle. She does not respond to those songs as a scholar or preservationist might – that is, from an intellectual recognition of their cultural and historical importance. Instead, her voice, at once strong and eerily delicate, tells those tales as if they had never been told before, as if in the moment of singing, she could feel the pang of every death, every betrayal and every loss.

Similar emotions, interestingly, have driven her activism. As the film demonstrates, Baez is not and never has been an ideologue, someone who figures out theoretically which position she should take on an issue and then takes it. Instead, she allows herself to hear the human stories beneath the headlines and the partisan battles, and then she sides with whoever is getting a raw deal. Her independence of mind and heart has sometimes infuriated people, particularly on the left, who felt that they knew what she should think. But in her activism, Baez has always revealed the soul of an artist – just as her activism has profoundly informed her artistry.

In the early Sixties, Baez, of course, helped introduce Bob Dylan to the world, and she remains one of his most significant and sensitive interpreters. The two songs of his on this soundtrack capture the passion and glee of their tangled relationship. Baez’s exquisite rendition of “With God on Our Side” is a tribute to Dylan as the inheritor of the folk mantle, a voice of conscience. Meanwhile, Baez and Dylan’s rollicking duet on “I Pity the Poor Immigrant,” from the mid-Seventies Rolling Thunder Revue tour, rocks delightfully hard, and finds the duo thoroughly enjoying their closeness on stage. Baez’s haunting reading of “Diamonds and Rust,” from a 2008 concert, provided an intimate glimpse of their relationship, one that resonates with everyone who occasionally pines for a lost love. In the PBS film, even Dylan admits to feeling proud to be the subject of such an affecting song.

In addition to the first-rate material she has written herself (two additional examples here are “David’s Song,” composed for her then-husband, draft resister David Harris, and “Love Song to a Stranger”), Baez has made a career of finding great songs by other songwriters and, as David Crosby puts it in the documentary, “singing the spots off them.” Songs by Steve Earle (“Jerusalem”), Tom Waits (“Day After Tomorrow,” the title track of Baez’s most recent album) and Robbie Robertson (“The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” a long-standing high point of Baez’s live shows) all receive characteristically superb treatments in performances that span nearly five decades.

Finally, her commitment to quality and depth of feeling constitutes the musical heart of Baez’s career. It’s often said that great singers can sing anything and hold our attention, but that’s not true. The greater the singer, the more they need songs worthy of their talent, whether they write them themselves or identify them among the work of others. Baez has taken songs light-hearted and darkly intense, politically trenchant and touchingly personal, and explored every aspect of their meaning and emotion. The glories of such artistry are one essential part of the better world Joan Baez has long fought to bring about. And that is one reason why she is not simply an “American Master,” but a worldwide and world-class one.

This biography was provided by the artist or their representative.

How do you build a narrative for a story as rich and multifaceted as the life of Joan Baez? Baez herself is not especially inclined to introspection, or to the backwards glance. Often wrongly perceived as a naïve idealist, she is, in her own distinctive way, a pragmatist to the core with her eyes fixed squarely on what’s right in front of her. As an activist, she has viewed her life not so much as a matter of choices but of very clear imperatives.

When the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. needed support on the dangerous front lines of the civil rights movement, what person of good conscience could refuse his call? When the Vietnam War was condemning tens of thousands of American soldiers and hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese citizens to violent death, who of sound mind wouldn’t do everything in her power to bring the war to an end? In Cambodia, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Chile and the United States, wherever a voice needed to be raised against oppression and brute force, Joan Baez has stood firm. To her those actions, so brave, principled and inspiring to the rest of us, were simply what had to be done.

That is the story told in the gripping PBS American Masters documentary “Joan Baez: How Sweet the Sound,” for which I conducted many hours of interviews with Baez herself and with people who know her well and to whom she means a great deal. It is a biographical story, and an outstanding one. The film’s soundtrack, however, tells its own compelling musical story. On the most superficial level, Baez’s peerless artistry provided her with a platform for her activism. It is why people cared what she thought about militarism, nuclear proliferation, nonviolence and human rights. After the release of her first album in 1960, when she was not yet twenty, Baez became a superstar; she even landed on the cover of Time Magazine in 1962. She immediately began to use her fame as a vehicle for her politics, and blazed a trail for the many musicians who would follow her in succeeding decades.

But even if Baez herself, as she bluntly states in the documentary, was often willing to let her singing take a backseat to her activism, that doesn’t mean that we, her audience, are obligated to view her in similar terms. In fact, that would do both her artistry and her activism a disservice. This soundtrack and the film itself make clear the deep, complex ways in which Baez’s music and her public and personal lives are inextricably bound to each other.

Baez emerged out of the folk music scene in Boston in the late Fifties, and the three rare tracks recorded by a family friend at Club 47, where she got her start, reveal how fully formed her gifts were from the very first. She comes to traditional folk ballads like “Barbara Allen” and “I Will Never Marry,” as well as later performances like “Fennario” (an outtake from footage director Murray Lerner shot for his groundbreaking 1967 documentary Festival) and “Silver Dagger” (from an early Sixties BBC broadcast), with an intuitive understanding of the painful, even harrowing, stories they chronicle. She does not respond to those songs as a scholar or preservationist might – that is, from an intellectual recognition of their cultural and historical importance. Instead, her voice, at once strong and eerily delicate, tells those tales as if they had never been told before, as if in the moment of singing, she could feel the pang of every death, every betrayal and every loss.

Similar emotions, interestingly, have driven her activism. As the film demonstrates, Baez is not and never has been an ideologue, someone who figures out theoretically which position she should take on an issue and then takes it. Instead, she allows herself to hear the human stories beneath the headlines and the partisan battles, and then she sides with whoever is getting a raw deal. Her independence of mind and heart has sometimes infuriated people, particularly on the left, who felt that they knew what she should think. But in her activism, Baez has always revealed the soul of an artist – just as her activism has profoundly informed her artistry.

In the early Sixties, Baez, of course, helped introduce Bob Dylan to the world, and she remains one of his most significant and sensitive interpreters. The two songs of his on this soundtrack capture the passion and glee of their tangled relationship. Baez’s exquisite rendition of “With God on Our Side” is a tribute to Dylan as the inheritor of the folk mantle, a voice of conscience. Meanwhile, Baez and Dylan’s rollicking duet on “I Pity the Poor Immigrant,” from the mid-Seventies Rolling Thunder Revue tour, rocks delightfully hard, and finds the duo thoroughly enjoying their closeness on stage. Baez’s haunting reading of “Diamonds and Rust,” from a 2008 concert, provided an intimate glimpse of their relationship, one that resonates with everyone who occasionally pines for a lost love. In the PBS film, even Dylan admits to feeling proud to be the subject of such an affecting song.

In addition to the first-rate material she has written herself (two additional examples here are “David’s Song,” composed for her then-husband, draft resister David Harris, and “Love Song to a Stranger”), Baez has made a career of finding great songs by other songwriters and, as David Crosby puts it in the documentary, “singing the spots off them.” Songs by Steve Earle (“Jerusalem”), Tom Waits (“Day After Tomorrow,” the title track of Baez’s most recent album) and Robbie Robertson (“The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” a long-standing high point of Baez’s live shows) all receive characteristically superb treatments in performances that span nearly five decades.

Finally, her commitment to quality and depth of feeling constitutes the musical heart of Baez’s career. It’s often said that great singers can sing anything and hold our attention, but that’s not true. The greater the singer, the more they need songs worthy of their talent, whether they write them themselves or identify them among the work of others. Baez has taken songs light-hearted and darkly intense, politically trenchant and touchingly personal, and explored every aspect of their meaning and emotion. The glories of such artistry are one essential part of the better world Joan Baez has long fought to bring about. And that is one reason why she is not simply an “American Master,” but a worldwide and world-class one.

This biography was provided by the artist or their representative.

How do you build a narrative for a story as rich and multifaceted as the life of Joan Baez? Baez herself is not especially inclined to introspection, or to the backwards glance. Often wrongly perceived as a naïve idealist, she is, in her own distinctive way, a pragmatist to the core with her eyes fixed squarely on what’s right in front of her. As an activist, she has viewed her life not so much as a matter of choices but of very clear imperatives.

When the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. needed support on the dangerous front lines of the civil rights movement, what person of good conscience could refuse his call? When the Vietnam War was condemning tens of thousands of American soldiers and hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese citizens to violent death, who of sound mind wouldn’t do everything in her power to bring the war to an end? In Cambodia, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Chile and the United States, wherever a voice needed to be raised against oppression and brute force, Joan Baez has stood firm. To her those actions, so brave, principled and inspiring to the rest of us, were simply what had to be done.

That is the story told in the gripping PBS American Masters documentary “Joan Baez: How Sweet the Sound,” for which I conducted many hours of interviews with Baez herself and with people who know her well and to whom she means a great deal. It is a biographical story, and an outstanding one. The film’s soundtrack, however, tells its own compelling musical story. On the most superficial level, Baez’s peerless artistry provided her with a platform for her activism. It is why people cared what she thought about militarism, nuclear proliferation, nonviolence and human rights. After the release of her first album in 1960, when she was not yet twenty, Baez became a superstar; she even landed on the cover of Time Magazine in 1962. She immediately began to use her fame as a vehicle for her politics, and blazed a trail for the many musicians who would follow her in succeeding decades.

But even if Baez herself, as she bluntly states in the documentary, was often willing to let her singing take a backseat to her activism, that doesn’t mean that we, her audience, are obligated to view her in similar terms. In fact, that would do both her artistry and her activism a disservice. This soundtrack and the film itself make clear the deep, complex ways in which Baez’s music and her public and personal lives are inextricably bound to each other.

Baez emerged out of the folk music scene in Boston in the late Fifties, and the three rare tracks recorded by a family friend at Club 47, where she got her start, reveal how fully formed her gifts were from the very first. She comes to traditional folk ballads like “Barbara Allen” and “I Will Never Marry,” as well as later performances like “Fennario” (an outtake from footage director Murray Lerner shot for his groundbreaking 1967 documentary Festival) and “Silver Dagger” (from an early Sixties BBC broadcast), with an intuitive understanding of the painful, even harrowing, stories they chronicle. She does not respond to those songs as a scholar or preservationist might – that is, from an intellectual recognition of their cultural and historical importance. Instead, her voice, at once strong and eerily delicate, tells those tales as if they had never been told before, as if in the moment of singing, she could feel the pang of every death, every betrayal and every loss.

Similar emotions, interestingly, have driven her activism. As the film demonstrates, Baez is not and never has been an ideologue, someone who figures out theoretically which position she should take on an issue and then takes it. Instead, she allows herself to hear the human stories beneath the headlines and the partisan battles, and then she sides with whoever is getting a raw deal. Her independence of mind and heart has sometimes infuriated people, particularly on the left, who felt that they knew what she should think. But in her activism, Baez has always revealed the soul of an artist – just as her activism has profoundly informed her artistry.

In the early Sixties, Baez, of course, helped introduce Bob Dylan to the world, and she remains one of his most significant and sensitive interpreters. The two songs of his on this soundtrack capture the passion and glee of their tangled relationship. Baez’s exquisite rendition of “With God on Our Side” is a tribute to Dylan as the inheritor of the folk mantle, a voice of conscience. Meanwhile, Baez and Dylan’s rollicking duet on “I Pity the Poor Immigrant,” from the mid-Seventies Rolling Thunder Revue tour, rocks delightfully hard, and finds the duo thoroughly enjoying their closeness on stage. Baez’s haunting reading of “Diamonds and Rust,” from a 2008 concert, provided an intimate glimpse of their relationship, one that resonates with everyone who occasionally pines for a lost love. In the PBS film, even Dylan admits to feeling proud to be the subject of such an affecting song.

In addition to the first-rate material she has written herself (two additional examples here are “David’s Song,” composed for her then-husband, draft resister David Harris, and “Love Song to a Stranger”), Baez has made a career of finding great songs by other songwriters and, as David Crosby puts it in the documentary, “singing the spots off them.” Songs by Steve Earle (“Jerusalem”), Tom Waits (“Day After Tomorrow,” the title track of Baez’s most recent album) and Robbie Robertson (“The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” a long-standing high point of Baez’s live shows) all receive characteristically superb treatments in performances that span nearly five decades.

Finally, her commitment to quality and depth of feeling constitutes the musical heart of Baez’s career. It’s often said that great singers can sing anything and hold our attention, but that’s not true. The greater the singer, the more they need songs worthy of their talent, whether they write them themselves or identify them among the work of others. Baez has taken songs light-hearted and darkly intense, politically trenchant and touchingly personal, and explored every aspect of their meaning and emotion. The glories of such artistry are one essential part of the better world Joan Baez has long fought to bring about. And that is one reason why she is not simply an “American Master,” but a worldwide and world-class one.

This biography was provided by the artist or their representative.

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