Joan Baez Vol. 1 Page 2

Her love of music burgeoned as well. She grew up with a younger sister, Mimi, who would later marry and be part of the folk duo Richard and Mimi Farina. Baez bought a Gibson guitar for 50 dollars and as well as her love of Seeger, she was drawn to the music of Harry Belafonte and Odetta.


Baez plays guitar at the March on Washington in 1963

Boston Bound
Cold war paranoia had driven folk music underground, but it re-emerged in 1957 in the rather more acceptable, clean-cut form of The Kingston Trio and a number of less overtly political combos. Baez initially loved The Kingston Trio, but then began questioning if this more commercial music was 'bastardised and unholy'. Baez was a serious, romantic young woman who enjoyed songs of 'love forsaken' with 'plots of death, misery and heartbreak'. There were many of these in the folk canon, and she learnt songs including 'Fair And Tender Maidens', 'All My Trials', 'Geordie' and 'Silver Dagger'.


On stage in Charlotte, North Carolina in 2003

The Baez family moved to Boston in 1958 when her father got a job at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Joan bought a Goya classical guitar with gut strings, learnt songs and played in coffee houses. She realised that she couldn't sing the blues and had to sing in her natural voice, which was 'high and pure'. She got a job singing at Club 47 in Harvard Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which had formerly been a jazz club but had introduced folk nights to keep up with changing trends.

Baez was soon contributing to a compilation album, Folksingers 'Round Harvard Square, singing six songs solo. The other singer-guitarists were Bill Wood and Ted Alevizos, who sang solo songs but also duetted with Baez. It was recorded in May 1959 and released on Veritas later that year.


The singer at the Frankfurt Easter March in 1966 with peace activist Ira Sandperl (left)

Folk Idol
Her career was starting to take off. Manager Albert Grossman paid her to sing at his Chicago club, The Gate Of Horn, and it was here that she met Bob Gibson, who invited her to play with him at The Newport Folk Festival. She was now singing to 13,000 people and her choice of songs, 'Virgin Mary Had One Son' and 'We Are Crossing Jordan River', and her pure vocal tone earned her the nicknames 'Madonna' and 'Virgin Mary'.

Back in Cambridge there were now queues around the block to Club 47 to see Joan Baez, and Albert Grossman turned up again, now wanting to record her. She was invited to go to New York to meet John Hammond, president of Columbia Records, but also knew Maynard Solomon of Vanguard Records and chose it instead. Grossman went on to manage Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix, and if he saw Baez he would remind her to contact him if she ever wanted to get into the big time.


Baez playing in Hamburg in 1973

Simply Does It
Her debut album for Vanguard, titled Joan Baez (now also known as Vol. 1), was far from 'bastardised and unholy' but a selection of 13 folk songs (including 'Silver Dagger' and 'House Of The Rising Sun') recorded in an unadorned manner – mainly just her guitar and voice, with extra guitar on some songs from Fred Hellerman of The Weavers. The album was released in Oct. 1960 and although it was a sleeper, when Joan Baez Vol. 2 was released in 1961, her debut reached No 15 in the US charts, spending 140 weeks there and going gold.


Baez arrives at Amsterdam airport in 1966

The singer put her political message across in a clear, uncompromising manner. She later wrote: 'My mere existence as a rebellious, barefooted, anti-establishment young girl functioning almost totally out of the context of commercial music and attaining such widespread notoreity designated me a countercultural heroine, whether I understood the full import of the position or not'.

Capitol Gains
This outspoken stance didn't always sit well with the music critics, who were predominantly male. One reporter claimed that Baez sung 'to trouble intellectuals'; she was described by another as 'holier than thou'; and Al Capp's satirical L'il Abner cartoon comic strip featured a hypocritical folksinger called Joanie Phoanie.


Baez on stage in Albany, New York at the Egg Performing Arts Centre, in 2016

Not so much a leftist as a pacifist with a socio-political conscience, Baez has been an activist all her life. Although she never wanted to align herself with any political party, she endorsed Barack Obama for the US election in 2008 and sang the civil rights movement anthem 'We Shall Overcome' at the White House in 2010, as she had done on many rallies since the early '60s.

Perhaps the establishment felt it should return the favour – in 2015 the album Joan Baez was inducted into the National Recording Registry of the Library Of Congress as having, 'Cultural, artistic and/or historical significance to American society and the nation's audio legacy'.