Joan Baez – The Protest Years


Joan Baez is not just a musician she is also a political icon. The artistry of her music comes second to her political conscience. Joan Baez uses music to communicate and promote important political ideals. She could be described as the mother of female singer songwriters she was one of the first women to have the songs that she wrote taken seriously and used by her peers.

She started her career as an activist in the 1950s after she heard Martin Luther King Jnr speak. They later became friends and she participated in many of the protests he organised.

First album

Her first album entitled simply Joan Baez was released on the Vanguard label in 1960. It was released after her fantastic performance at the Newport Festival the previous year. Surprisingly, it took only 4 days to record that album with some tracks being put down in just one take.



Joan Baez Vol. 2, released in 1961, was the album that truly lit a fire under her career. On that album, her crystal-clear soprano singing voice reinterpreted traditional folk tunes accompanied only by an acoustic guitar. The album got onto the bestseller list and made Baez a minor celebrity; it reached No. 13 on the Billboard album chart, and was nominated for a Grammy in the Best Contemporary Folk Performance category. The Greenbriar Boys played on two of the tracks on the album.

Volume 2

In 1963, she famously performed We Shall Overcome at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Throughout the rest of the 60s, she sang that song at several other protests.

Joan Baez 5 released in 1965 is the album with which she publicised the message of the Greenwich Village Movement. The album had far fewer traditional folk tunes on it than her previous albums. At this point, her protest work started to take over her life. In 1967, she went to prison twice and she was a frequent participant in anti-war rallies.

album 5

Joan Baez became the poster girl for protest songs, sadly this lead to her writing very little non-protest related work during the next few years. However, when you consider that folk music has for centuries recorded the struggles of ordinary people Joan Baez during that period was being true to the roots of folk music.

Joan Baez did not just protest against the war, she took physical action too. In 1972, she joined a peace delegation on a trip to North Vietnam. While there, she was caught up in the Christmas bombing of Hanoi.

Later she also protested against abuses of human rights by the communists in Vietnam. Joan Baez was instrumental in setting up the US branch of Amnesty International. In 2011, the organisation honoured her by setting up the Joan Baez awards.


Today, Joan Baez is still inspiring new generations to use music to make political statements. She still speaks up for those who normally do not have a voice and still tours with her protest songs still making up a significant percentage of her repertoire.

Folk Music and why they produce great live acts

Folk Music Produces Great Live Acts

People are moved by music that has soul. Everyone loves music, especially powerful music because it can uplift people.

For centuries, folk music has been the music of working class people who sing it to share their experience of life with the world. It has strong traditions that are passed from generation to generation.

Folk music with soul

Folk performers have strong feelings about their music and this comes over in the way in which they perform. Their audiences are uplifted when they see them perform live, which is one reason people enjoy live folk events so much.

A chance to sing along

It is very rare that you will go to a folk gig and not see the audience really engaged. Most people sing along and dance. This is the case regardless of the genre of folk being played or the age of the audience.

A huge choice of styles and genres

Another reason folk music engages is that a wide variety of instruments is used. This means that the melodies produced are rich and complicated giving folk music, especially live performances, a unique feel. This is part of the reason folk music appeals to such a wide range of ages and cuts across classes. People from all kinds of musical backgrounds end up getting involved in the folk scene because it gives them the chance to play their instrument in a different way and stretch themselves.

The change to get close to the band

Folk music is often performed at small venues giving the performance a very intimate feel, which audiences love. Even better is the fact that these small venues often come in the form of a pub, so the audience can enjoy a pint whilst listening. It is not unusual for folk musicians to perform off stage amongst the audience. For the audience this is engaging and makes it more likely that they will join in.

Good music and exciting dance

In the UK, many folk bands include dance as part of their performance. Recently traditional dance has enjoyed a renaissance because of folk bands touring with traditional dance troupes. The sound of the dancers’ feet complements the rhythm of the music and gives the whole gig an extra layer of energy and buzz. In fact, recently, clog dancing has undergone such a renascence that traditional clog makers cannot keep up with demand.

The best way to experience folk music

No matter what your background or your current musical tastes you will love live folk music. It is very different, but appeals to everyone. So next time you see a folk event advertised, why not give it a go.

If you are new to folk, one of the best ways to experience the genre is to go to a folk festival. There are many different genres everything from traditional folk to folk punk and a festival is a good way to experience the full spectrum. It is a great way to check out new bands, but is also a good way to see the big stars of folk like Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Ben Harper and Holly Near.