Joan Baez has been famous for nearly six decades. Born on Staten Island, the daughter of a physicist father, a Mexican immigrant and her mother of Scottish decent. She grew up in this area of California. Two years after her family moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts so that her professorial father could join the faculty of MIT, Baez enrolled at Boston University’s theater school, greatly disliking the experience and flunking her courses. She eventually delved into the city’s burgeoning folk scene.
Joan helped popularize the then unknown Bob Dylan
In 1960, when she was 19, she released her first album, Joan Baez. A collection of traditional ballads sung in a pristine soprano, it became one of the least-likely albums to crash the Top 20. Baez became an icon and influenced a generation of rising singers. Beginning in the 60’s a time of social change and protesting, Joan became known for topical songs promoting social justice, civil rights and pacifism. Baez also played a critical role in popularizing Bob Dylan, with whom she dated and performed regularly in the mid-1960s. Baez’s most popular songs over the years have included “We Shall Overcome,” “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue,” “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” and “Diamonds and Rust.” With an enduring career, she has continued to record and perform into the 2000s. The duo’s had a romantic relationship reached its end by the 1965 tour, which resulted in Dylan refusing to invite Baez onstage. (He later apologized for his behavior.)
The 1960s were a turbulent time in American history, and Baez often used her music to express her social and political views. Baez thus became an established, revered folk artist who used her voice for widespread change. She sang “We Shall Overcome” at the March on Washington in 1963 that featured the iconic words and leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. A revered anthem of the Civil Rights Movement, “We Shall Overcome” also became a top 40 hit for Baez in the U.K. in 1965. She achieved her first top 10 single in Great Britain later that year with “There But for Fortune,” also finding success with the Dylan-penned tune “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue.”
In addition to supporting civil rights as an artist and worker, Baez participated in university free-speech efforts led by students and the antiwar movement, calling for an end to the conflict in Vietnam. Beginning in 1964, she would refuse to pay part of her taxes to protest U.S. military spending for a decade. Baez was also arrested twice in 1967 in Oakland, California, for blocking an armed forces induction center.
“Joan has that rock & roll attitude toward life and freedom and love,” says singer-songwriter Bob Neuwirth, who has known Baez since her folk-club days in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in the Sixties. “She has a kind of bravery that could just kick down the doors.” Baez was a fixture at marches and protests, especially in the Sixties, preaching a philosophy of nonviolence. “It took a lot of courage to be nonviolent,” says Neuwirth, “especially when people had clubs, dogs, handcuffs and all that shit.”
In 2017 Baez will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The timing couldn’t be more fitting. With Donald Trump in the White House, rock is entering a new protest era, and Baez is helping lead the way. Last fall, she performed at Standing Rock in North Dakota as part of the protest against the Dakota Pipeline. In January, she participated in two Women’s Marches on the same day, one in Redwood City and another in San Francisco, and she’s helping to plan a show to benefit illegal immigrants (her father was born in Mexico and came to the U.S. at age two). “So many people have said to me, out of the blue, ‘We need Joan Baez right now,’ ” says Joe Henry, who’s producing Baez’s next LP. “She’s been fiercely standing where she is her whole life.” When Henry told his sister-in-law Madonna he was working with Baez, he says, she texted him: “She’s a fucking warrior hero.”
Baez wed David Harris in 1968, and the two had a son, Gabriel. Harris was at the forefront of protests against the Vietnam War draft, and was jailed for some time for refusing to be drafted. The couple divorced in 1972 a few months after Harris’s release.
A regular meditator, Baez has openly spoken of her dating history and went into psychotherapy for years to grapple with issues around focused relationships. “I was terrified of any intimacy. That’s why 5,000 people suited me just fine,” Baez said in a 2009 Telegraph interview. “But one-on-one, it was either completely transient—after the concert and be gone next day, and then my participation would make me sick—or it was something that I thought was real but just turned out to be heartbreaking.” Baez, having been romantically linked to Mickey Hart and for a short time to Kris Kristofferson and Steve Jobs, has increasingly made peace with her relationship history.
Joan and Steve Jobs become lovers
In 1982, Jobs was introduced to Joan Baez by her sister Mimi Farina. He was 27 and she was 41. “It turned into a serious relationship between two accidental friends who became lovers,” It’s ironic that Steve Jobs was obsessed with Bob Dylan’s music, some of his friends believed that one thing that drew Jobs to Baez was the fact that she used to date Bob Dylan. “Steve loved that connection to Dylan,” said Jobs’ college friend Elizabeth Holmes.” The relationship fizzled out when it became clear that Jobs wanted children and Baez did not.
Other facts about Joan Baez
- She was Bob’s Queen of Folk and the Apple of Steve’s Eye
- She was a teen star in the folk music world.
- She was only 22 when she led the crowd at the March on Washington with “We Shall Overcome”
- Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. visited her in prison.
- On top of being the Queen of Folk music, she was (and remains) a very serious activist
- She is perfectly bilingual and even produced an album in Spanish
- She was also prominent in the struggle for LGBTQ rights
- She has many awards, too many to mention
- Later in life she became an actress appearing in over a dozen movies
- She released the memoirs Daybreak (1968) and A Voice to Sing With (1987). In 2009, PBS also released an American Masters documentary on Baez’s life, How Sweet the Sound.