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Joan Baez

In quick succession, Joan Baez celebrated joyful landmarks in 2009, marking the 50th anniversary of both her legendary residency at the famed Club 47 in Cambridge, and her subsequent debut at the 1959 Newport Folk Festival. This landmark anniversary was preceded by a new album release, Day After Tomorrow (September 2008), recorded in Nashville and produced by Steve Earle. Not long before the album arrived, Joan stood alongside Nelson Mandela, as the world celebrated his 90th birthday at the 46664 concert in London's Hyde Park. The next three years brought a whirlwind of honors Joan's way.

In January 2009, Joan attended the presidential inauguration of Barack Obama in Washington, DC, and performed at the Peace Ball. Later that year, the PBS American Masters series premiered her life story, Joan Baez: How Sweet The Sound. And in early 2010, she was back in Washington to celebrate Black History month as part of In Performance at the White House: A Celebration of Music from the Civil Rights Movement, an all-star concert broadcast live from the East Room.

2011 began with the National Recording Academy inducting Joan's 1960 debut LP on Vanguard Records into the Grammy Hall of Fame. At the same time, the prestigious Folk Alliance International presented her with its Lifetime Achievement Award. At Amnesty International's 50th Anniversary Annual General Meeting in San Francisco, the organization bestowed on her the inaugural Joan Baez Award for Outstanding Inspirational Service in the Global Fight for Human Rights.

Joan Baez. A musical force of nature - who unselfconsciously introduced Bob Dylan to the world in 1963, marched on the front lines of the Civil Rights movement with Martin Luther King, Jr., inspired Vaclav Havel to fight for a Czech Republic, and sang on the first Amnesty International tour. She brought the Free Speech Movement into the spotlight at Berkeley, took to the fields with Cesar Chavez, organized resistance to the war in Southeast Asia, then forty years later saluted the Dixie Chicks for their courage to protest war.

Joan's earliest recordings fed a host of traditional ballads into 1960s rock. She quickly began to focus awareness on songwriters ranging from Woody Guthrie, Dylan, Phil Ochs, Richard Fariña, and Tim Hardin, to Kris Kristofferson and Mickey Newbury, to Dar Williams, Richard Shindell, Steve Earle, and many more (including herself). Day After Tomorrow carries on Joan's tradition of serving as a lightning rod for a wide array of songwriters, with material by Earle, Tom Waits, Elvis Costello, T Bone Burnett, Patty Griffin, Thea Gilmore, and Eliza Gilkyson. In addition to Earl, the Nashville studio cats onboard include multi-instrumentalists Tim O'Brien and Darrell Scott, bassist Viktor Krauss, and drummer Kenny Malone.

"It's been a long time," Joan said of Day After Tomorrow, "since I've had an entire album of songs that speak to the essence of who I am in the same way as the songs that have been the enduring backbone of my repertoire for the past 50 years."

Day After Tomorrow also forms (or completes) a trilogy of albums - with Steve Earle as a primal link - that began with 2003's Dark Chords On a Big Guitar, Joan's first new album of studio recordings in six years (at the time), and followed-up with 2005's Bowery Songs, her first live album in ten years (at the time). Both earlier albums brought Joan's history of mutual mentoring up into the new millennium - introducing new collaborations with younger artists and songwriters, a hallmark of her recordings and performances ever since the '60s.

Bowery Songs was recorded live at the Bowery Ballroom on New York City's Lower East Side, the weekend after Election Day, 2004. A career-spanning program, Bowery Songs is framed in a rich tradition, a reminder that at crucial moments during her long and storied career - which is to say, at crucial moments in America's history over the past five decades or so - Joan has recorded and released live albums that have been critical barometers of our times. These range from 1963's In Concert Part 1 and Part 2, to 1975's From Every Stage, to her string of European live albums in the 1980s, up through 1995's Ring Them Bells.

Fifty Years - And Then Some - of Joan Baez

In the summer of 1958, 17-year-old Joan Baez entered Boston University School of Drama, surrounded by a musical group of friends who shared her twin passions of folk music and humanist causes. The traditional songs she mastered all dealt with the human condition - underdogs in the fight, inequity among the races, the desperation of poverty, the futility of war, romantic betrayal, unrequited love, spiritual redemption, and grace. Her repertoire grew and she was soon making the rounds of the busy coffee house folk music scene in Boston and Cambridge, especially the venerable Club 47 on Mt. Auburn Street off Harvard Square.

As an 18-year-old, she was introduced onstage at the first Newport Folk Festival in 1959, by Bob Gibson. This led to an offer from Vanguard Records, and she recorded her first solo LP for the label in the summer of 1960. With their mix of traditional ballads and blues, gospel, lullabies, Carter Family songs, Weavers and Woody Guthrie songs, cowboy tunes, ethnic folk staples of American and non-American vintage, and much more - her records won strong followings here in the US and abroad.

Many of the songs that Joan introduced on those early LPs found their way into the rock vernacular: "House Of the Rising Sun" (the Animals), "John Riley" (the Byrds), "Babe, I'm Gonna Leave You" (Led Zeppelin), "What Have They Done To the Rain" (the Searchers), "Jackaroe" (Grateful Dead), and "Long Black Veil" (the Band), to name a few. "Geordie," "House Carpenter," and "Matty Groves" inspired a multitude of British acts who trace their origins to Fairport Convention, Pentangle, and Steeleye Span. By November 1962, Joan was worthy of the cover of TIME magazine as leader of the burgeoning folk boom.

In 1963, Joan began touring with Bob Dylan and recording his music, a bond that came to symbolize the folk music movement for the next two years. At the same time, Joan began her lifelong role of introducing songs from a host of contemporary singer-songwriters starting with Phil Ochs, Richard Fariña, Leonard Cohen, Tim Hardin, Paul Simon, and others. Her repertoire grew to include songs by Jacques Brel, Lennon-McCartney, Johnny Cash and his Nashville peers, and South American composers Nascimento, Bonfa, Villa-Lobos, and others.

At a point when it was neither safe nor fashionable, Joan put herself on the line countless times, as her life's work was mirrored in her music. She sang about freedom and Civil Rights everywhere, from the backs of flatbed trucks in Mississippi to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial at Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King's March on Washington in 1963. In 1964, she withheld 60% of her income tax from the IRS to protest military spending, and participated in the birth of the Free Speech movement at UC Berkeley. A year later she co-founded the Institute For The Study Of Nonviolence near her home in Carmel Valley. In 1966, she stood in the fields alongside Cesar Chavez and migrant farm workers striking for fair wages, and opposed capital punishment at San Quentin during a Christmas vigil.

The soundtrack for the tumultuous '60s was (and still is) Joan's remarkably timeless Vanguard albums. In 1968, she began recording in Nashville, an album of country standards for her then-husband David Harris. He was taken into custody by Federal marshals in July 1969 and imprisoned for refusing induction and organizing draft resistance against the Vietnam war. Nashville's "A-Team" backed Joan on her last four LPs on Vanguard (including her biggest career single, a cover of The Band's "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" in 1971) and her first two releases on A&M Records. Meanwhile, Joan traveled to Hanoi with the U.S.-based Liaison Committee and helped establish Amnesty International on the West Coast.

Joan dedicated her first album sung entirely in Spanish to Chileanos suffering under the rule of Augusto Pinochet. The LP inspired Linda Ronstadt, later in the '80s, to begin recording the Spanish songs of her heritage. One of Joan's songs, "No Nos Moveran (We Shall Not Be Moved)" had been banned from public singing in Spain for more than forty years under Generalissimo Franco's rule. Joan became the first major artist to perform the song in public on a controversial Madrid television appearance in 1977, three years after the dictator's death.

In 1975, Joan's self-penned "Diamonds & Rust" became the title tune single of an LP with songs by Jackson Browne, Janis Ian, John Prine, Stevie Wonder & Syreeta, Dickey Betts of the Allman Brothers Band - and Bob Dylan. His Rolling Thunder Revues of late 1975 and '76 (and resulting movie Renaldo & Clara, released in 1978) co-starred Joan Baez.

In 1978, she traveled to Northern Ireland and marched with the Irish Peace People, calling for an end to violence. She appeared at rallies on behalf of the nuclear freeze movement, and performed at benefit concerts to defeat California's Proposition 6 (Briggs Initiative), legislation that would have banned openly gay people from teaching in public schools. She received the American Civil Liberties Union's Earl Warren Award for her commitment to human and civil rights issues; and founded Humanitas International Human Rights Committee, which she headed for 13 years.

Highlights of the 1980s include: Amnesty International's Conspiracy of Hope tour in 1986, with U2, Peter Gabriel, Sting, and others; the 1986 People's Summit concert in Iceland at the time of the historic meeting between Reagan and Gorbachev; and a 1989 concert in Czechoslovakia, cited by President Vaclav Havel as a great influence in the Velvet Revolution.

Highlights of the 1990s include: the Four Voices benefit concerts that reinforced Joan's belief in the new generation of songwriters' ability to speak to her; traveling to war-torn Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1993, at the invitation of Refugees International, for the first major concerts since the outbreak of the civil war; singing in honor of Pete Seeger at the Kennedy Center Honors Gala in Washington, D.C., in 1994; the release of Ring Them Bells in 1995, as her nurturing support of other singer-songwriters came full circle; and the release of Gone From Danger in 1997, with songs from Dar Williams, Sinead Lohan, Betty Elders, The Borrowers, and Richard Shindell.

Highlights of the 2000s include: Vanguard Records' six-year reissue campaign of expanded editions (with bonus tracks, and new liner notes) of every original LP she recorded at the label from 1960 to 1972; UME's four-CD mini-boxed set of her six A&M albums from 1972 to 1976 (also with bonus material and new liner notes); the Lifetime Achievement Award bestowed at the 49th annual Grammy Awards in 2007, and her introduction of the Dixie Chicks onstage; the release of Day After Tomorrow in 2008; and the Spirit of Americana Free Speech Award received at the Americana Music Association's 7th annual awards show in Nashville in 2008; and philanthropic and human rights endeavors too numerous to list, from a meeting with Vietnam vets in Idaho Falls in 2009, to a benefit show in San Francisco for the Seva Foundation, with Steve Earle, David & Tracy Grisman, Tuck & Patti, and Wavy Gravy.

The 2000s also brought expanded edition reissues (with bonus tracks and new liner notes) of Joan's '90s catalog releases Play Me Backwards (1992), Ring Them Bells (1995), and Gone From Danger (1997); the 2009 trade paperback reissue of Joan's 1987 autobiography, And A Voice To Sing With (Simon & Schuster); her 1969 performance on The Smothers Brothers Show included on a Time-Life Home Video release in 2008; restoration of her full-length performance at the Woodstock Music & Arts Fair on special multi-CD and multi-DVD collectors editions in conjunction with the 40th anniversary in 2009; and remembrances of her time with Bob Dylan in the early '60s as seen in Martin Scorcese's documentary No Direction Home (Paramount, 2005); Murray Lerner's "Festival!" (1967, upgraded to DVD in 2005, Eagle Rock); and Lerner's The Other Side of The Mirror: Bob Dylan Live At The Newport Folk Festival, 1963-1965 (Sony Columbia/Legacy, 2007).

Highlights of 2010 include: The Orden de las Artes y las Letras de España (Order of Arts and Letters from Spain), the country's most prestigious award given to foreign artists, bestowed in 2010 under Royal Decree; a fundraiser at the Teatro ZinZanni spiegeltent in San Francisco, to benefit the Jenkins Penn Haitian Relief Organization (J/P HRO), founded by philanthropist Diana Jenkins and actor/humanitarian Sean Penn to provide relief efforts to the Haitian people; the Humanitarian Award from the Children's Health Fund at their annual benefit in New York, which included a performance and duets with Paul Simon, one of the organization's founders.

In the spring 2011, Joan sent this Facebook message to the people of Egypt: "You were not afraid. You walked hand in hand. Deep in your hearts, you did believe, and you have overcome. We have faith that your road to democracy will end in triumph. Blessings be upon you and your extraordinary nonviolent revolution."

"All of us are survivors," Joan Baez wrote, "but how many of us transcend survival?" 50 years on, she continues to show renewed vitality and passion in her concerts and records, and is more comfortable than ever inside her own skin. In this troubled world, to paraphrase "Wings," she will always continue to seek "a place where they can hear me when I sing."

--Arthur Levy, July 2008


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