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Ch. 05: Joan Baez – First Lady of Folk Music


If there was one singer of the second wave of folk musicians who has remained as consistent in their socio-political principles as Pete Seeger has, it would be Joan Baez. Similar to Seeger a generation before her, Baez was born into moderate affluence and pacifistic convictions. Her father was a Mexican born physicist consultant to UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) and her mother a Quaker, which undoubtedly shaped her pacifistic convictions and world awareness.

Joan Baez, 1963

Although her early years were divided between New England and California, by the time she was 17 she had gained a reputation as a gifted interpreter of traditional folk songs in the Greenwich Village folk scene. In 1959, at age 18 she was a hit at the Newport Folk Festival and within a year had a recording contract and the first of seventeen records with the Vanguard label.

Early success came by way of traditional folk songs such as the English Child ballads (a collection of over 300 English and Scottish folk songs collected and printed by Francis James Child in the late 19th century), traditional American folk songs like “Wildwood Flower” and Leadbelly’s “House of the Rising Sun” which was later a hit for The Animals.

But Baez’s importance in the flow of music history starts when she began to be identified with the folk protest song movement in 1962. Shifting away from the traditional folk repertoire, Baez began to incorporate new material by other songwriters who shared her concern about civil rights, nuclear disarmament, and particularly, the war in Viet Nam. One typical song was by songwriter Phil Ochs: “There But For Fortune” a heartrending lyric identifying with the prisoner, the lonely, downtrodden of the world. Her heritage of compassionate pacifism was beginning to mature in her presentation.

During her 1963 concert tour, Baez introduced to her folk audiences a young songwriter from Minnesota named Bob Dylan. Dylan’s performances in her concerts together with successful covers of his songs by other artists catapulted him to instant reverence with folk musicians and audiences.

Joan Baez and Bob Dylan, 1963

During the next four years, Baez was a constant promoter and interpreter of Dylan’s music, using many in concerts and records. Her clear, shimmery voice providing an intelligible alternative to Dylan’s own gritty, if not mumbled, recordings.

In August 1963, Baez was on the platform with Dr. Martin Luther King at the end of the famous March on Washington; singing several songs and helping to lead in the anthem of the civil rights movement, “We Shall Overcome.” In 1965 she formed the Institute for the Study of Non-Violence in San Francisco and protested the war by withholding her taxes.

The folk song movement peaked in 1965 and began to quickly give way to rock ‘n roll on the charts and radio airwaves. Baez, who never felt comfortable with the rock idiom, shifted from New York City to Nashville, where she recorded several quasi-country albums over the next decade. In 1971 she had her only Top Ten hit of the post-folk era with Robbie Robertson’s “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.”

In 1975 she wrote and recorded her own songs for the first time, beginning with the album Diamonds and Rust, the title song of which spoke of her relationship and love affair with Dylan.

Since the ’70s, Joan Baez has continued to record, tour, and be active politically. Appearing in many of the trouble spots of the world in the last two decades, including Bosnia, Baez has remained true to her convictions. She currently lives in San Francisco.

Her place in the unfolding history of the ‘60s protest song movement was two-fold. First, the clarity of her voice, her selection of songs and the precision of her interpretations were the unimpeachable musical embodiment of the civil rights/anti-war movement. Secondly, she was instrumental in introducing the world to the songs and persona of Bob Dylan.

Joan Baez and Bob Dylan Documentary “How Sweet the Sound”, 2009

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Study Units

An Overview

Ch. 1: Understanding Pitch

Ch. 2: Understanding Musical Pulse

Ch. 3: Understanding Volume

Ch. 4: Understanding Tone

Ch. 5: Understanding Melody

Ch. 6: Understanding Harmony

Ch. 7: Understanding Rhythm

Ch. 8: Understanding Bass

Ch. 9: Understanding Countermelody

Ch. 10: Understanding Structure

Ch. 11: Understanding Instrumentation

Ch. 12: Understanding Tempo

An Overview

Ch. 1: 19th Century: Pre-Foster

Ch. 2: Folk Music by the People

Ch. 3: Popular Music in its Infancy

Ch. 4: Stephen Foster – “Father of American Popular Music”

Ch. 5: The Importance of Stephen Foster

Ch. 6: Scott Joplin – “King of Ragtime”

Ch. 7: The Player Piano – Automated Music

Ch. 8: John Philip Sousa – “The March King”

Ch. 9: John Philip Sousa – Recording Artist and Activist

An Overview

Ch. 1: John Lomax – Recording American Roots Music

Ch. 2: Woody Guthrie – “Father of Modern American Folk Music”

Ch. 3: Leadbelly & Pete Seeger: End of the First Wave

Ch. 4: The Kingston Trio – Beginning of the Second Wave

Ch. 5: Joan Baez – “First Lady of Folk Music”

Ch. 6: Peter, Paul & Mary – Balancing the Message

Ch. 7: Robert Zimmerman – The Beginning of an American Icon

Ch. 8: Dylan in New York City

Ch. 9: Dylan after Newport

Ch. 10: The Importance of Dylan

Ch. 11: Folk Music in the 21st Century

An Overview

Ch. 1: The Roots of Country

Ch. 2: Bristol Beginnings

Ch. 3: The Grand Ole Opry

Ch. 4: Cowboys and the Movies

Ch. 5: Western Swing

Ch. 6: Bluegrass: Hillbilly on Caffeine

Ch. 7: Honky-tonk: Merging Two into One

Ch. 8: The Nashville Sound: Country-Pop

Ch. 9: Rockabilly – Country meets R&B

Ch. 10: Country Feminists Find Their Voice

Ch. 11: The Bakersfield Sound

Ch. 12: Austin “Outlaw” Country

Ch. 13: Neo-Traditionalists at the end of the 20th Century

Ch. 14: Mainstreaming Country in the ‘90s

Ch. 15: Redesigning Country in the 21st Century

An Overview

Ch. 1: What is Jazz?

Ch. 2: Before It Was Jazz

Ch. 3: Jazz is Born!

Ch. 4: Early Jazz Musicians

Ch. 5: Louis Armstrong

Ch. 6: Chicago and Harlem – Hub of 1920s Jazz

Ch. 7: Big Band – Jazz Swing!

Ch. 8: Big Band Musicians and Singers

Ch. 9: Jump Blues and Bop

Ch. 10: Cool Jazz

Ch. 11: Hard Bop

Ch. 12: Free Jazz – Breaking the Rules

Ch. 13: Fusion – The Jazz-Rock-Funk Experience

Ch. 14: Third Stream and World Jazz

Ch. 15: New Age & Smooth Jazz

Ch. 16: Summary – Jazz Lives!

An Overview

Ch. 1: Blues – The Granddaddy of American Popular Music

Ch. 2: Where Did the Blues Come From?

Ch. 3: What Are the Blues?

Ch. 4: How to Build the Blues

Ch. 5: Classic Blues – The Early Years

Ch. 6: Delta Blues – Authentic Beginnings

Ch. 7: Blues in the City – Migration and Power

Ch. 8: Blues in Britain – Redefining the Masters

Ch. 9: Contemporary Blues – Maturity and Respect

Ch. 10: The Relevancy of the Blues Today

Ch. 1: Timelines, Cultures & Technology

Ch. 2: Pre-Rock Influences

Ch. 3: Rock is Born!

Ch. 4: Rock is Named

Ch. 5: Doo-Wop

Ch. 6: Independent Record Labels

Ch. 7: Technology Shapes Rock ‘n’ Roll

Ch. 8: The Plan to Mainstream Rock ‘n’ Roll

Ch. 9: Payola – Rock ‘n’ Roll’s First Scandal

Ch. 1: Crafting Sound in the Studio/Producers and Hit Songs

Ch. 2: West Coast Sound: Beach, Surf, and Teens

Ch. 3: The British Invasion: Two Prongs – Pop & Blues

Ch. 4: Motown and the Development of a Black Pop-Rock Sound

Ch. 5: Soul Music: Gospel and R&B in the Deep South

Ch. 6: The Sounds of Bubble Gum Pop-Rock

Ch. 7: The Arrival of Folk-Rock

Ch. 8: Psychedelic Rock ‘n’ Roll

Ch. 9: Early Guitar Gods of Rock

Ch. 10: Rock Festivals: The Rise and Fall of Music, Peace, and Love

Ch. 11: Anti-Woodstock and Shock Rock Movements

Ch. 1: Technological Breakthroughs

Ch. 2: Electronic Dance Music

Ch. 3: Hip-Hop & Rap – An Introduction

Ch. 4: The Beginnings of Rap

Ch. 5: Old School Rap – Up From the Streets

Ch. 6: Rap’s Golden Age

Ch. 7: East Coast – Political Rap

Ch. 8: West Coast – Gangsta Rap

Ch. 9: The Fragmentation of Rap – Pop, Party & More

Ch. 10: Further Fragmentation – Different Directions

Ch. 11: The Importance of Rap

Ch. 1: Musical Stage Productions in America before the 1800s

Ch. 2: Minstrel Shows and Melodramas

Ch. 3: Stage Presentations in the Late 19th Century

Ch. 4: Early 20th Century: Revues and Operettas

Ch. 5: The Arrival of the Modern American Musical

Ch. 6: Great Partnerships in Book-Musicals

Ch. 7: Musical Theatre Composers in the mid-Century

Ch. 8: Fresh Voices on the Stage in the 1960s

Ch. 9: Two Dominant Forces at the End of the Century

Ch. 10: New Voices at the End of the Century

Ch. 11: New Voices, New Sounds in the New Century

Ch. 12: Musical Theatre Glossary

Ch. 13: Is it “Theatre” or “Theater”?

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