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Joan Baez

(b. 1941) American folk singer


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(1941– )

US folksinger and political activist, who spoke and sang for a generation of young people opposed to the Vietnam War. She is a Chevalier de la Légion d'honneur.

She began her career by singing in coffee houses in Boston and New York and at the Newport Folk Festival in 1959; her first records were released in 1960. Her voice, singing mostly traditional ballads to her own guitar accompaniment, came as a revelation to many young people after years of neglect of folk music in the USA. Her fourth album, a live concert recording, included ‘We Shall Overcome’, which became the anthem of the civil rights and anti-war movements. Her tenth release was a set of songs by her friend and former lover Bob Dylan. In 1965 she founded an Institute for the Study of Non-Violence, and for the next decade her political activity took precedence over her music; in 1968 she married David Harris, who went to prison the following year for refusing to be drafted (they were later divorced). In 1975 she made a return to full-time singing, confessing frankly that she needed the money. For the album Diamonds and Rust she had an electric folk-rock band and sang contemporary songs; the title song related to her affair with Dylan. She had remained active in politics, opposing the coup in Chile in 1973, founding the International Human Rights Commission Humanitas in 1979, and touring Latin America in 1981. After a quiet period in the 1980s she made a major musical comeback with such albums as Play Me Backwards (1992) and Gone From Danger (1997). She has published two autobiographies, Daybreak (1968) and And a Voice to Sing With (1987).

Subjects: Music — History.


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