Joan Baez [1941- ]
Joan Baez was born of Mexican, English, and Scottish heritage in Staten Island, New York, in 1941. Because her father was a physicist, her family moved often during her childhood, living in various places around the United States, Europe, and the Middle East. After attending a Pete Seeger concert at a young age, Baez was inspired to learn and perform traditional folk songs, first on ukelele and then on guitar.
When she was a teenager, her family moved to Boston where her father took a job at MIT. Baez immersed herself in the city’s up-and-coming folk scene and was invited to join folk singer Bob Gibson at the Newport Folk Festival in 1959, a performance that earned her a contract with Vanguard Records.
In 1960 Baez released her debut album, the first in a string of successful traditional albums in the early 60s. Already a respected leader of the folk revival, it was Baez who helped introduce the world to a new face on the scene -- her boyfriend, Bob Dylan, whose songs she would cover on many of her albums.
By the mid-'60s Baez was at the forefront of the burgeoning Protest Music movement, adding to her traditional repertoire controversial political songs while voicing her opposition to the Vietnam War. Drawing from her international Quaker upbringing, Baez became a peace and civil rights activist, performing at Martin Luther King, Jr.’s 1963 March on Washington and his 1965 march in Alabama. A victim of racial prejudice herself because of her half-Mexican heritage, Baez has devoted her life’s work to the pursuit of peace and equality through non-violence, more than once in the '60s being jailed for her protests.
In 1969 Baez performed at Woodstock, cementing her place among the elite of the folk genre. She began writing her own songs toward the end of the decade and in the 1970s earned continued success, particularly with her 1975 album, Diamonds & Rust.
In 1980 she received honorary degrees from both Antioch and Rutgers Universities for her activism and in 1983 she performed Dylan’s Blowin’ in the Wind at the Grammys. In ‘85 Baez performed as part of the international Live Aid benefit at the Philadelphia concert and in ’86 she toured with Amnesty International.
Throughout the ‘80s, ‘90s, and into the 21st century, Baez continued to record and tour, focusing on issues of human and environmental rights and social justice.
“Social justice is the true core of my life, looming larger than music,” she said. In 2007, she was honored with the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and in 2009 she performed at the 50th Newport Folk Festival where she first gained recognition five decades before. Baez is the subject of numerous documentaries, tributes and books, including a couple of autobiographies. She is considered one of the most influential folk artists of the 20th century.