Joan Baez is a songwriter/singer, a soprano with a rich three-octave range, plus she is a longtime activist. She is known for her contemporary Folk music that includes many songs of protest. Baez has been performing for over 60 years, with over 60 albums. Fluent in Spanish and English, she has also recorded songs in at least six other languages. Baez is noted for her highly individual vocal style with a distinctively rapid vibrato.
Baez music has diversified since the counterculture 1960s and encompasses the genres of Rock, Pop, Country and Gospel music. She began her recording career in 1960 and was an immediate success. Her first three albums, Joan Baez (1960), Joan Baez, Vol. 2 (1961) and Joan Baez In Concert (1962) were all huge hits.
In the tumultuous year of 1968, Baez traveled to Nashville, where a marathon recording session resulted in two albums: Any Day Now, a record consisting exclusively of Bob Dylan covers, one, Love Is Just A Four-Letter Word, has never been recorded by Dylan and has become a Baez staple, and the country-ish David’s Album recorded for her then husband David Harris, a prominent anti-Vietnam War protester and organizer who was imprisoned for draft resistance. Harris was a country music fan and turned Baez toward more complex country rock influences.
In 1969, Baez’ appearance at Woodstock brought her an international musical and political platform, especially after the release of Woodstock, the 1970 documentary film.
In the 1970s, she delivered more hits including Robbie Robertson‘s The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, a cover of The Band‘s signature song. She recorded six albums in four years.
Where Are You Now, My Son? (1973) features a 23-minute title song which took up one side of the album. The song documented Baez’s visit to Hanoi, North Vietnam in December 1972, in which she and her traveling companions survived a week-long bombing campaign.
In 1956, Baez first heard Martin Luther King, Jr. speak about nonviolence, Civil Rights and social change. The two became friends, with Baez participating in many of the Civil Rights Movement demonstrations that Dr. King helped organize. In 1958, at 17, Baez committed her first act of civil disobedience by refusing to leave her classroom for an air raid drill. She sang about freedom and justice from the back of a flatbed truck in Mississippi and at King’s March on Washington in 1963.
In 1964, she publicly endorsed resisting taxes by withholding 60 percent, the figure commonly determined to fund the military, on her 1963 income taxes. She founded the Institute for the Study of Nonviolence in 1965 and encouraged draft resistance at her concerts. Arrested twice in 1967 for blocking the entrance of the Armed Forces Induction Center in Oakland, she spent over a month in jail. She was a frequent participant in antiwar marches and rallies and gave a free 1967 concert at the Washington Monument which had been opposed by the conservative Daughters of the American Revolution and attracted a crowd of 30,000 to hear her antiwar message.
Although she married Harris and famously had affairs with Dylan and Steve Jobs, Baez has admitted to several affairs with women and identifies as bisexual. She is a longtime advocate for LGBTQ Rights. In the 1990s, she appeared with her friend Janis Ian at a benefit for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and performed at the San Francisco Pride March.
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. She sang at the spontaneous memorial for Harvey Milk after his murder in November 1978. Her song Altar Boy And The Thief from Blowin’ Away (1977) was written as a dedication to her queer fans.