Happy Birthday, Joan Baez

9 Jan

Today is folk music and social justice pioneer Joan Baez’ 72nd birthday. Born on Staten Island to a Mexican Catholic and a Scots Anglican, Baez was heavily influenced by the pacifist messages delivered when the family converted to Quakerism. She demonstrated her musical talent early on, and began performing in the late 50s. Fluent in English and Spanish, she has recorded in both (as well as six other languages).

After moving to New York City in 1960, she began performing more protest-based music along with her other folk repertoire. She soon met a young Bob Dylan and recorded a number of his songs. The two regularly performed together and developed a strong shared commitment to social justice. They both performed at the 1963 March on Washington. Baez also performed at Woodstock, viewing the festival as a statement against government oppression.

Throughout her career, Baez has been an outspoken proponent of social justice. A strong feminist, she is also a staunch defender of LGBT rights. She regularly performs benefits to relieve poverty and homelessness–sounds like a great social worker to me!. The overview of her involvement looks like a directory of social causes, and she is energetic for each one. She isn’t slowing down, either. Despite her distate for political partisanship, she recognized the true dangers of the GOP platform and endoresed her first major candidate with Barack Obama. She also participated actively in the Occupy protests, singing to raise money to support the cause.

In March of last year, Amnesty International created the Joan Baez Award for Outstanding Inspirational Service in the Global Fight for Human Rights. At the launching celebration, she 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. What a powerful and fitting legacy for this tireless worker for rights for all.

4 Responses to “Happy Birthday, Joan Baez”

  1. Christine Noble January 9, 2013 at 8:08 am #

    Joan was one of the artists we would sit around the record player listening to when I was a kid on the weekends. It was the closest thing we had to church and she and her peers, such as Arlo Guthrie, were an important influence in my life. I wouldn’t be working as a political activist today if it were not for her.

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt January 9, 2013 at 8:31 am #

      I would say that listening to and being with Joan Baez and Arlo Guthrie qualify as going to “church”.


  1. Happy Birthday, Joan Baez « Central Oregon Coast NOW - January 9, 2013

    […] Happy Birthday, Joan Baez. […]

  2. Album of the Week, July 10: Diamonds and Rust by Joan Baez | Music and Meaning: The RBHS Jukebox - July 10, 2016

    […] Joan Baez was born on Staten Island in 1941. Her parents were both immigrants — her father from Mexico and her mother from Scotland — and she grew up steeped in their culture and music. The family converted to Quakerism when she was a child, something that shaped her lifelong pacifism and interest in social justice. She also developed an early interest in music, sparked in part by the reactions to her clear, beautiful voice. After attending a Pete Seeger concert at age 13, she found a way to merge her passions and began pursuing a career in music. She performed at the 1959 Newport Folk Festival and landed a contract with Vanguard records. After achieving some success, she met an up-and-coming folk singer named Bob Dylan. They began a complicated life-long friendship and a short on-and-off romance. Her time with Dylan deepened her interest in protest folk and her passion for blending music and political action. She refused to perform at segregated venues, donated her services to protest events, and performed at Woodstock. By 1974, she was a force to be reckoned with in music circles, known equally for her powerful voice and strong opinions. Reconnecting with Dylan, taking stock of her career, and turning her political lens to more intimate issues, she entered the studio with producer David Kershenbaum and a crack band, including jazz greats Larry Carlton and Tom Scott, and recorded her most powerful — and best-selling — album. […]

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