American folk singer, songwriter, musician, and activist, Joan Baez has performed publicly for over 55 years. Joan Baez was born in New York in 1941 after her grandfather had emigrated to the US from Mexico.
When a child, a friend of Joan’s father gave her a ukulele. She learned four chords, which enabled her to play rhythm and blues, the music she was listening to at the time. When Baez was 13, her aunt and her aunt’s boyfriend took her to a concert by folk musician Pete Seeger, and Baez found herself strongly moved by his music.
She began her recording career in 1960, and achieved immediate success. Her first three albums, Joan Baez, Joan Baez, Vol. 2, and Joan Baez in Concert all achieved gold record status, and stayed on the charts of hit albums for two years.
She is regarded as a folk singer, although her music has diversified since the counterculture days of the 1960s and now encompasses everything from folk rock and pop to country and gospel music.
Although a songwriter herself, Baez is generally regarded as an interpreter of other people’s work, having recorded songs by the Allman Brothers Band, the Beatles, Jackson Browne, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Violeta Parra, Woody Guthrie, The Rolling Stones, Pete Seeger, Paul Simon, Stevie Wonder and many others.
She performed three of the songs at the 1969 Woodstock Festival, helped to bring the songs of Bob Dylan to national prominence, and has displayed a lifelong commitment to political and social activism in the fields of nonviolence,civil rights, human rights and the environment.
Her appeal extended far beyond the folk-music audience. Of her fourteen Vanguard albums, thirteen made the top 100 of Billboard’s mainstream pop chart, eleven made the top forty, eight made the top twenty, and four made the top ten.
Baez has had a popular hit song with Diamonds & Rust and hit covers of Phil Ochs’s There but for Fortune and The Band’s The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.
Other songs associated with Baez include Farewell, Angelina, Love Is Just a Four-Letter Word, Joe Hill, Sweet Sir Galahad and We Shall Overcome.
Fluent in Spanish as well as in English, she has also recorded songs in at least six other languages.
Baez’s distinctive vocal style and political activism had a significant impact on popular music. She was one of the first musicians to use her popularity as a vehicle for social protest, singing and marching for human rights and peace. Baez came to be considered the “most accomplished interpretive folksinger/songwriter of the 1960s.”
In recent years Joan has found success interpreting songs of modern songwriters such as Ryan Adams, Josh Ritter, Steve Earle and Natalie Merchant. Her recordings include many topical songs and material dealing with social issues.
Video: Joan Baez performing “Forever Young”
Amnesty International Joan Baez Award
On March 18, 2011 Joan Baez was honoured by Amnesty International at their 50th Anniversary Annual General Meeting in San Francisco. The tribute to Joan Baez was the inaugural event for the Amnesty International Joan Baez Award for Outstanding Inspirational Service in the Global Fight for Human Rights.
Joan Baez was presented with the first award in recognition of her human rights work with Amnesty International and beyond, and the inspiration she has given activists around the world. In future years, the award is to be presented to an artist — music, film, sculpture, paint or other medium — who has similarly helped advance human rights.