Joan Baez

Joan Baez and Bob Dylan NARA/Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

Joan Baez and Bob Dylan NARA/Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

Joan Baez (b. 1941)

Joan Baez is a singer-songwriter best known for her interpretations of other’s songs, including those by contemporaries like Bob Dylan and the Band and centuries-old ballads. She was comfortable on the concert stage, the coffeehouse, and the protest platform.

Her roots helped shape her commitment to social issues. Her parents became Quakers when she was a little girl, and Baez continues to identify with the Quakers, drawing from them her pacifism and commitment to social justice. Her father worked with UNESCO, moving the family around the world, including Europe and the Middle East, giving the young musician a global perspective and passion for social causes.

At 13 she saw Pete Seeger in concert and began practicing his songs. In 1958 her family moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Baez began performing in the clubs of Boston’s burgeoning folk music scene. Bob Gibson invited her to play with him at the Newport Folk Festival in 1959, and her career took off. Her first album quickly followed.

Over the years Baez’s popularity grew. She drew inspiration from many musical streams which brought her to the attention of a wide range of fans. She also used her popularity as a platform for peace, civil rights, and human rights causes. Baez sang at the 1963 March on Washington among other key moments in the 1960s. Out of her opposition to the War in Vietnam Baez engaged in tax resistance and was arrested blocking Army induction centers. She founded the Institute for the Study of Nonviolence. In December 1972 Baez was part of a peace delegation that went to North Vietnam to address human rights in the region and deliver mail to U.S. prisoners of war. During that trip they survived in Hanoi and Haiphong the 11-day intensive Christmas bombing campaign.

Joan Baez was featured with Amnesty International’s “Conspiracy of Hope” tour and sang with Live-Aid for famine relief. In 1989 she went to Czechoslovakia and met with Chapter 77 activist including Vaclav Havel, inspiring them with her music. As Yugoslavia disintegrated into war, Baez was the first major artist to play there after the siege of Sarajevo began. She later founded Humanitas International, an organization to address human rights abuses by regimes of the right or left. In 2011 at the 50th Anniversary meeting of Amnesty International the organization presented her the inaugural Amnesty International Joan Baez Award for Outstanding Inspirational Service in the Global Fight for Human Rights.

“Blowin’ in the Wind”:

Joan Baez at Woodstock Singing “We Shall Overcome” (1969):

“There But for Fortune” (2004):

Joan Baez in Sarajevo (powerful ending with Vedran Smailovich, the cellist of Sarajevo):

Care to learn more?

Learn more about Daniel Buttry’s series of books on global peacemakers.