Joan Baez

Joan Baez

(1941-)

Born to a Mexican father and a British moth¬ er in Staten Island, New York, Joan Baez became one of Americas most successful pop- folk singers and an outspoken political activist.Baez’s father was a physicist and her mother was a drama teacher. Baez lived in a number of college towns around the country as her par¬ ents pursued their professional careers.

She took up music at a young age, singing in her high school choir. With her distinctive soprano voice, she was considered a soloist with star potential, and she began singing pro¬ fessionally at the age of eighteen. She gained wide attention with her performance at the 1959 Newport Folk Festival in Rhode Island.

d he following year, Baez released her debut album, Joan Baez. Her first three albums each went gold and stayed on the bestseller charts for more than two years. Overall, she has recorded eight gold albums in a career that has spanned more than forty years.

Baez reached star status during the 1960s, when the country was confronting a number of powerful social issues. These issues had a pro¬ found effect on her, and she became not only one of the most popular folk singers in the country but an icon of social activism.

In the early 1960s, she used her growing popularity in the music business to help sponsor an up-and- coming young folksinger named Bob Dylan. The two singers became close friends and per¬ formed together several times over the course of their careers.Over the years, Baez has become associated with a number of causes.

She became a strong advocate for Hispanic farmworkers in California. She worked closely with Cesar Chavez (see no. 47), helping him raise money. Time magazine ran a feature story on her in 1962 for her efforts to racially desegregate the southern college campuses.

During the 1960s, she also became an outspoken critic of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, which earned her scorn from conservatives and other supporters of the war around the country. After the war ended, however, Baez wrote “Open Letter to the Socialist Republic ofVietnam,” in which she protested the policies of the new communist government.

She has founded two organizations: the Institute for the Study of Nonviolence (1965) and the Humanitas International Human Rights Committee (1979). Baez also helped found Amnesty West Coast, a branch of the human-rights organization Amnesty International.

In 1968, Baez married fellow social activist David Harris. The marriage last¬ ed until 1973.Baez continued her work on behalf of social causes into the 1980s, when most of her fellow activists had retired to more comfortable lives. She has written two books: Daybreak (1968) and A Voice to Sing With: A Memoir (1986).