Award winning folk singer, songwriter, musician, and activist
"Joan Baez is an American folk singer, songwriter, musician, and activist whose contemporary folk music often includes songs of protest or social justice, Baez has performed publicly for over 59 years, releasing over 30 albums. Fluent in Spanish and English, she has also recorded songs in at least six other languages. 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 generally interprets other composers' work, having recorded songs by Bob Dylan, the Allman Brothers Band, the Beatles, Jackson Browne, Leonard Cohen, Woody Guthrie, Violeta Parra, The Rolling Stones, Pete Seeger, Paul Simon, Stevie Wonder and many others. In recent years, she 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.
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.
Songs of acclaim include "Diamonds & Rust" and covers of Phil Ochs's "There but for Fortune" and The Band's "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down". She is also known for "Farewell, Angelina", "Love Is Just a Four-Letter Word", "Forever Young","Joe Hill", "Sweet Sir Galahad" and "We Shall Overcome". She was one of the first major artists to record the songs of Bob Dylan in the early 1960s; Baez was already an internationally celebrated artist and did much to popularize his early songwriting efforts. Baez also performed fourteen songs at the 1969 Woodstock Festival and has displayed a lifelong commitment to political and social activism in the fields of nonviolence, civil rights, human rights and the environment.
Baez was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on April 7, 2017.
Social and Political Involvement
To reward her decades of dedicated activism, Baez was honoured with the Spirit of Americana/Free Speech award at the 2008 Americana Music Honors & Awards.
In 1956, Baez first heard Martin Luther King, Jr. speak about nonviolence, civil rights and social change which brought tears to her eyes. Several years later, the two became friends, with Baez participating in many of the Civil Rights Movement demonstrations that Dr. King helped organize.
In 1958, at age 17, Baez committed her first act of civil disobedience as a conscientious objector by refusing to leave her Palo Alto High School classroom in Palo Alto, California for an air-raid drill.
The early years of Baez's career saw the Civil Rights Movement in the U.S. become a prominent issue. Her performance of "We Shall Overcome", the civil rights anthem written by Pete Seeger and Guy Carawan, at the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom permanently linked her to the song. Baez again sang "We Shall Overcome" in Sproul Plaza during the mid-1960s Free Speech Movement demonstrations at the University of California, Berkeley in Berkeley, California, and at many other rallies and protests.
Her recording of the song "Birmingham Sunday" (1964), written by her brother-in-law, Richard Fariña, was used in the opening of 4 Little Girls (1997), Spike Lee's documentary film about the four young victims killed in the 1963 16th Street Baptist Church bombing.
In 1965, Baez announced that she would be opening a school to teach nonviolent protest. She also participated in the 1965 Selma to Montgomery marches for voting rights.
In November 2017 as part of a release of documents from the National Archives that were supposed to relate to the assassination of John F. Kennedy, an unsubstantiated 1968 FBI report alleged that Baez was involved in the 1960s in an intimate affair with Dr. Martin Luther King, an accusation described by history professor Clayborne Carson, the director of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute and a Stanford University, as "part of a smear campaign" against King.
"I went to jail for 11 days for disturbing the peace; I was trying to disturb the war."
Joan Baez, 1967 Pop Chronicles interview.
Highly visible in civil-rights marches, Baez became more vocal about her disagreement with the Vietnam War. In 1964, she publicly endorsed resisting taxes by withholding sixty percent of her 1963 income taxes. In 1964, she founded the Institute for the Study of Nonviolence (along with her mentor Sandperl) and encouraged draft resistance at her concerts. The Institute for the Study of Nonviolence would later branch into the Resource Center for Nonviolence.
In 1966, Baez's autobiography, Daybreak, was released. It is the most detailed report of her life through 1966 and outlined her anti-war position, dedicating the book to men facing imprisonment for resisting the draft.
Baez was arrested twice in 1967 for blocking the entrance of the Armed Forces Induction Center in Oakland, California, and spent over a month in jail. (See also David Harris section below.)
She was a frequent participant in anti-war marches and rallies, including:
- numerous protests in New York City organized by the Fifth Avenue Vietnam Peace Parade Committee, starting with the March 1966 Fifth Avenue Peace Parade,
- a free 1967 concert at the Washington Monument in Washington, D.C., that had been opposed by the Daughters of the American Revolution which attracted a crowd of 30,000 to hear her anti-war message,
- the 1969 Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam protests.
There were many others, culminating in Phil Ochs's The War Is Over celebration in New York City in May 1975.
During the Christmas season 1972, Baez joined a peace delegation traveling to North Vietnam, both to address human rights in the region, and to deliver Christmas mail to American prisoners of war. During her time there, she was caught in the U.S. military's "Christmas bombing" of Hanoi, North Vietnam, during which the city was bombed for eleven straight days.
Her disquiet at the human-rights violations of communist Vietnam made her increasingly critical of its government and she organized the May 30, 1979, publication of a full-page advertisement (published in four major U.S. newspapers) in which the communists were described as having created a nightmare. Her one-time anti-war ally, Jane Fonda, refused to join in Baez's criticism of Hanoi, leading to what was publicly described as a feud between the two.
Baez was instrumental in founding the USA section of Amnesty International in the 1970s, and has remained an active supporter of the organization.
Baez's experiences regarding Vietnam's human-rights violations ultimately led her to found her own human-rights group in the late 1970s, Humanitas International, whose focus was to target oppression wherever it occurred, criticizing right and left-wing régimes equally.
In 1976, she was awarded the Thomas Merton Award for her ongoing activism.
She toured Chile, Brazil and Argentina in 1981, but was prevented from performing in any of the three countries, for fear her criticism of their human-rights practices would reach mass audiences if she were given a podium. While there, she was kept under surveillance and subjected to death threats. A film of the ill-fated tour, There But for Fortune: Joan Baez in Latin America, was shown on PBS in 1982.
In 1989, after the Tiananmen Massacre in Beijing, Baez wrote and released the song "China" to condemn the Chinese government for its violent and bloody crackdown on thousands of student protesters who called for establishment of democratic republicanism.
In a second trip to Southeast Asia, Baez assisted in an effort to take food and medicine into the western regions of Cambodia, and participated in a United Nations Humanitarian Conference on Kampuchea.
On July 17, 2006, Baez received the Distinguished Leadership Award from the Legal Community Against Violence. At the annual dinner event, they honored her for her lifetime of work against violence of all kinds.
In 2015, Baez received the Ambassador of Conscience Award.
In 2016, Baez advocated for the Innocence Project and Innocence Network. At each concert, Baez informs the audience about the organizations' efforts to exonerate the wrongfully convicted and reform the system to prevent such incidents.
Opposing the Death Penalty
In December 2005, Baez appeared and sang "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" at the California protest at the San Quentin State Prison against the execution of Tookie Williams. She had previously performed the same song at San Quentin at the 1992 vigil protesting the execution of Robert Alton Harris, the first man to be executed in California after the death penalty was reinstated. She subsequently lent her prestige to the campaign opposing the execution of Troy Davis by the State of Georgia.
Baez has also been prominent in the struggle for gay and lesbian rights. In 1978, she performed at several benefit concerts to defeat the Briggs Initiative, which proposed banning all gay people from teaching in the public schools of California. Later that same year, she participated in memorial marches for the assassinated San Francisco city supervisor, Harvey Milk, who was openly gay.
In the 1990s, she appeared with her friend Janis Ian at a benefit for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, a gay lobbying organization, and performed at the San Francisco Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride March.
Her song "Altar Boy and the Thief" from Blowin' Away (1977) was written as a dedication to her gay fanbase.
On June 25, 2009, Baez created a special version of "We Shall Overcome" with a few lines of Persian lyrics in support of peaceful protests by Iranian people. She recorded it in her home and posted the video on YouTube and on her personal website. She dedicated the song "Joe Hill" to the people of Iran during her concert at Merrill Auditorium, Portland, Maine on July 31, 2009.
On Earth Day 1999, Baez and Bonnie Raitt honored environmental activist Julia Butterfly Hill with Raitt's Arthur M. Sohcot Award in person on her 180-foot (55 m)-high redwood treetop platform, where Hill had camped to protect ancient redwoods in the Headwaters Forest from logging.
War in Iraq
In early 2003, Baez performed at two rallies of hundreds of thousands of people in San Francisco protesting the U.S. invasion of Iraq (as she had earlier done before smaller crowds in 1991 to protest the Gulf War).
In August 2003, she was invited by Emmylou Harris and Steve Earle to join them in London, UK, at the Concert For a Landmine-Free World.
In the summer of 2004, Baez joined Michael Moore's "Slacker Uprising Tour" on American college campuses, encouraging young people to get out and vote for peace candidates in the upcoming national election.
In August 2005, Baez appeared at the Texas anti-war protest that had been started by Cindy Sheehan.
Tree sit in
On May 23, 2006, Baez once again joined Julia "Butterfly" Hill, this time in a "tree sit" in a giant tree on the site of the South Central Farm in a poor neighborhood of downtown Los Angeles, California. Baez and Hill were hoisted into the tree, where they remained overnight. The women, in addition to many other activists and celebrities, were protesting the imminent eviction of the community farmers and demolition of the site, which is the largest urban farm in the state. Because many of the South Central Farmers are immigrants from Central America, Baez sang several songs from her 1974 Spanish-language album, Gracias a la Vida, including the title track and "No Nos Moverán" ("We Shall Not Be Moved").
2008 presidential election
Throughout most of her career, Baez remained apprehensive about involving herself in party politics. However, on February 3, 2008, Baez wrote a letter to the editor at the San Francisco Chronicle endorsing Barack Obama in the 2008 U.S. presidential election. She noted: "Through all those years, I chose not to engage in party politics.... At this time, however, changing that posture feels like the responsible thing to do. If anyone can navigate the contaminated waters of Washington, lift up the poor, and appeal to the rich to share their wealth, it is Sen. Barack Obama." Playing at the Glastonbury Festival in June, Baez said during the introduction of a song that one reason she likes Obama is because he reminds her of another old friend of hers: Martin Luther King, Jr.
Although a highly political figure throughout most of her career, Baez had never publicly endorsed a major political party candidate prior to Obama. However, after Obama was elected, she expressed that she would likely never do so again, saying in a 2013 interview in The Huffington Post that "In some ways I'm disappointed, but in some ways it was silly to expect more. If he had taken his brilliance, his eloquence, his toughness and not run for office he could have led a movement. Once he got in the Oval Office he couldn't do anything.".
She performed at the White House on February 10, 2010, as part of an evening celebrating the music associated with the civil rights movement, performing "We Shall Overcome".
Joan Baez Award
On March 18, 2011, Baez was honored by Amnesty International at its 50th Anniversary Annual General Meeting in San Francisco. The tribute to Baez was the inaugural event for the Amnesty International Joan Baez Award for Outstanding Inspirational Service in the Global Fight for Human Rights. 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.
Occupy Wall Street
On November 11, 2011, Baez played as part of a musical concert for the protestors at Occupy Wall Street. Her three-song set included "Joe Hill", a cover of the Rolling Stones' "Salt of the Earth"and her own composition "Where's My Apple Pie?"