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.
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.
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.
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.