Joan Baez – A Folk Music Legend

Joan Baez made waves when she sang “We Shall Overcome” at Woodstock 1969; her pitch-perfect voice could be heard among people camping out and sleeping bag sleeping bags alike. Joan used music as a form of activism long before it became an organized movement.

Her early recordings for Vanguard were consistently strong; occasionally even touching upon greatness (such as her self-titled debut). But it was her later work that propelled her into stardom.

Her early influences

Folk music legend Joan Baez was one of the leading figures during its resurgence during the 1960s. A prolific composer herself, she sang the ballads of great bands, songwriters, political movements, entire cultures and religions alike with soft angelic vocals that never lost their magic. Her passion for music never wavered; her voracious appetite was legendary.

Joan Baez was born into a Quaker family of Mexican and Scottish heritage on Staten Island, New York City, with highly educated parents who encouraged her to study classical piano and violin from an early age. Though initially drawn into studying physics for academic reasons, Joan eventually left this pursuit after one year to concentrate on singing and civil rights activism instead.

In 1959, she made her first public appearance at the Newport Folk Festival and gained fame at age 18. From there her career flourished quickly; recordings of traditional ballads sold well; she performed for civil rights causes including bus boycotts and civil disobedience campaigns; she even recorded some ballads specifically to raise funds.

Her early musical influences included Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie; she quickly developed her own style as she started to write her own songs. She recorded her debut album in 1960 which sold moderately well; subsequent live albums would follow suit over time.

In 1964, she signed on with Gold Castle Records and released Farewell Angelina which included several Dylan songs alongside more traditional material. This album marked an important step forward in her career as she experimented with additional instruments while expanding her repertoire with modern sounds.

On her subsequent albums, she continued experimenting with different styles and collaborated with Peter Schickele – a composer who provided classical orchestration – in creating Noel (1966), Joan (1967) and Baptism: A Journey Through Our Times (released 1968).

In the 1970s, she began writing her autobiographies and performing for charitable causes. Additionally, she engaged in anti-war activities and addressed human rights violations worldwide with her musical talent. In 2017, she was honored by being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, while Antioch and Rutgers universities both awarded her honorary doctorates.

Her musical style

Joan Baez was an amazing performer who used her voice for social change. She stood against war and injustice through music and activism; inspiring many others along the way through her songs. Although Joan’s political views aroused both praise and opposition, she continued using music as an avenue towards justice.

At 18 years old, she began performing at local coffee houses and small clubs. Her shy nature and stunning soprano voice quickly won over audiences; soon thereafter they formed an enthusiastic fan base. As an activist she would travel abroad to raise awareness for human rights and civil liberties issues.

Her activism had an influence on her musical style, transitioning from traditional folk music to more modern folk styles. She became an early supporter of the civil rights movement, as well as being one of the featured performers at Woodstock music festival in 1969, helping the festival gain international exposure through her performances.

Baez made her major label debut during the 1970s with albums like Play Me Backwards and Brothers in Arms, both featuring more traditional folk sounds with piano and guitar accompaniment; these albums showed an ever-maturing Baez who never lost her passion for social change.

Baez was an outspoken proponent of civil rights during 1967, supporting antiwar protests while advocating for equal treatment of her fellow Americans. Due to these views, she found herself jailed multiple times during Vietnam, refusing draft tests or serving in the military. This political ideology also inspired her to perform for prisoners on Alcatraz Island that year – recording an unforgettable concert performance at Alcatraz!

Baez was known for her outstanding albums ranging from acoustic, country and rock genres during her long career, even singing with the Rolling Thunder Band in 1975; an event which remains highly memorable today. Baez’s interpretation of Dylan’s “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue” with Joni Mitchell’s powerful riffs elevated it further and deserves to be preserved both for its beauty and meaning, as well as for being part of history as two great artists collaborated together on something truly amazing.

Her career

At the same time as reinventing folk music for a wider audience, Joan Baez also began advocating civil rights and protesting the Vietnam War. During the 1960s she engaged in student free speech efforts at universities as well as blocking an armed forces recruitment center; her and her husband withheld some taxes to promote pacifism. After marrying singer/songwriter David Harris (they later divorced), Baez continued performing benefits and fundraisers for social and political causes and released various albums such as Very Early Joan (1982), Speaking of Dreams (1989), Gone from Danger (1997) Bowery Songs (2005) and Day After Tomorrow (2008)

Not only did Baez compose her own material, she also covered songs written by other artists with an approachable yet reverent approach that resonated with audiences and other musicians – Led Zeppelin included one of Baez’s renditions on their debut album as they covered “Babe, I’m Going to Leave You.”

These recordings, made in church halls and auditoria, displayed Baez’s ability to capture the spirit of any song no matter its source or genre. Her renditions earned her acclaim as one who could master multiple genres while remaining true to each genre’s core elements.

In the 1970s, she experimented with more contemporary sounds by adding electric guitar to her performances. This can be heard on Farewell Angelina (1965), featuring both Dylan songs as well as traditional folk ballad arrangements rearranged by Joan Noel (1966) and Noel (1967). These albums continued this direction but also included modern sounds as well.

Baez was known for her lively performances with numerous famous musical artists, such as Judy Collins, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Jackson Browne and Paul Simon. She published two autobiographies including 1987’s And a Voice to Sing With and 2021’s Kennedy Center Honor; although no longer popular due to shifting tastes in folk music appreciation she continued performing benefits and concerts that supported social and political causes as she aged; recording live tracks from her 75th birthday celebration (in 2016) as well as Daybreak compilation albums were among many recordings she made throughout her long career.


Joan Baez has become one of the world’s best-known folk singers, activists and humanitarians during her decades-long career. She has championed civil rights issues both domestically and abroad while touring with numerous popular musicians and releasing over 30 albums that span genres and reach younger generations as well.

In 1960, she launched her career with Vanguard Records’ series of popular folk albums that received critical acclaim, her debut receiving critical acclaim and marking a watershed moment of folk music revival in the early 1960s. At this time she also helped bring Bob Dylan’s songs to public awareness while also introducing works by contemporary singer-songwriters Phil Ochs, Richard Farina Leonard Cohen and Tim Hardin among many others. Additionally she became a strong proponent of nonviolence by participating in several civil rights demonstrations like Martin Luther King’s March on Washington and Woodstock among many others.

Her activism has resulted in many award nominations and wins, including a Grammy for her recording of “We Shall Overcome.” President Barack Obama awarded her the National Humanities Medal in 2009. Additionally, other organizations and honor societies have honored her and published autobiographical books featuring her life story such as Daybreak and And A Voice to Sing With.

Joan has long been a strong advocate for the arts, remaining an active presence on the folk music scene for over six decades. She has performed concerts worldwide and inspired many other musicians; additionally she has written books and been involved with social justice causes.

Joan was honored with being honored with being accepted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 12th Class, making history. This was an exceptional feat for one of the most influential female folk singers ever. Joan continues performing and released a new album in September 2018 as well as hosting an intimate concert featuring Judy Collins, Mary Chapin Carpenter and Jackson Browne among many other great talents.