Joan Chandos Baez (born January 9, 1941) is an American singer, songwriter, musician and activist. Her contemporary folk music often includes songs of protest or social justice. Baez has performed publicly for over 60 years, releasing over 30 albums. Fluent in Spanish and English, she has also recorded songs in at least six other languages.
Baez is generally regarded as a folk singer, but her music has diversified since the counterculture era of the 1960s and encompasses genres such as folk rock, pop, country and gospel music. She began her recording career in 1960 and achieved immediate success. Her first three albums, Joan Baez, Joan Baez, Vol. 2 and Joan Baez in Concert, all achieved gold record status. Although a songwriter herself, Baez generally interprets other composers’ work, having recorded songs by the Allman Brothers Band, the Beatles, Jackson Browne, Leonard Cohen, Woody Guthrie, Violeta Parra, the Rolling Stones, Pete Seeger, Paul Simon, Stevie Wonder, Bob Marley, and many others. She was one of the first major artists to record the songs of Bob Dylan in the early 1960s; Baez was already an internationally celebrated artist and did much to popularize his early songwriting efforts. On her later albums she has found success interpreting the work of more recent songwriters, including Ryan Adams, Josh Ritter, Steve Earle, Natalie Merchant and Joe Henry.
Baez’s acclaimed songs include “Diamonds & Rust” and covers of Phil Ochs’s “There but for Fortune” and The Band’s “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”. She is also known for “Farewell, Angelina”, “Love Is Just a Four-Letter Word”, “Forever Young”, “Here’s to You”, “Joe Hill”, “Sweet Sir Galahad” and “We Shall Overcome”. Baez performed fourteen songs at the 1969 Woodstock Festival and has displayed a lifelong commitment to political and social activism in the fields of nonviolence, civil rights, human rights and the environment. Baez was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on April 7, 2017.
Baez was born on Staten Island, New York, on January 9, 1941. Joan’s grandfather, the Reverend Alberto Baez, left the Catholic Church to become a Methodist minister and moved to the U.S. when her father was two years old. Her father, Albert Baez (1912–2007), was born in Puebla, Mexico and grew up in Brooklyn, New York, where his father preached to—and advocated for—a Spanish-speaking congregation. Albert first considered becoming a minister but instead turned to the study of mathematics and physics and received his PhD degree at Stanford University in 1950. Albert was later credited as a co-inventor of the x-ray microscope. Joan’s cousin, John C. Baez, is a mathematical physicist.
Her mother, Joan Chandos Baez (née Bridge), referred to as Joan Senior or “Big Joan”, was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1913 as the second daughter of an English Anglican priest who claimed to be descended from the Dukes of Chandos. Born in April 1913, she died on April 20, 2013.
Baez had two sisters – Pauline Thalia Baez Bryan (1938–2016), who was sometimes professionally known as Pauline Marden; and Margarita Mimi Baez Fariña (1945–2001) who was generally better known as Mimi Fariña. To varying degrees, both women were also political activists and musicians like their sister. They are also notable for having been married to other American artists – Pauline (briefly) to painter Brice Marden and Mimi to author and musician Richard Fariña with whom she collaborated for several years.
The Baez family converted to Quakerism during Joan’s early childhood, and she has continued to identify with the tradition, particularly in her commitment to pacifism and social issues. While growing up, Baez was subjected to racial slurs and discrimination due to her Mexican heritage. Consequently, she became involved with a variety of social causes early in her career. She declined to play in any white student venues that were segregated, which meant that when she toured the Southern states, she would play only at black colleges.
Due to her father’s work with UNESCO, their family moved many times, living in towns across the U.S, as well as in England, France, Switzerland, Spain, Canada, and the Middle East, including Iraq. Joan Baez became involved with a variety of social causes early in her career, including civil rights and non-violence. Social justice, she stated in the PBS series American Masters, is the true core of her life, “looming larger than music”. Baez spent much of her formative years living in the San Francisco Bay area, where she graduated from Palo Alto High School in 1958.
The opening line of Baez’s memoir And a Voice to Sing With is “I was born gifted” (referencing her singing voice, which she explained was given to her and for which she can take no credit). A friend of Joan’s father gave her a ukulele. She learned four chords, which enabled her to play rhythm and blues, the music she was listening to at the time. Her parents, however, were fearful that the music would lead her into a life of drug addiction. When Baez was 13, her aunt and her aunt’s boyfriend took her to a concert by folk musician Pete Seeger, and Baez found herself strongly moved by his music. She soon began practicing the songs of his repertoire and performing them publicly. One of her very earliest public performances was at a retreat in Saratoga, California, for a youth group from Temple Beth Jacob, a Redwood City, California, Jewish congregation. A few years later in 1957, Baez bought her first Gibson acoustic guitar.
Baez’s first real boyfriend was Michael New, a fellow student from Trinidad whom she met at her college in the late 1950s. Years later in 1979, he inspired her song “Michael”. Like Baez, he attended classes only occasionally. The two spent a considerable amount of time together, but Baez was unable to balance her blossoming career and her relationship. The two bickered and made up repeatedly, but it was apparent to Baez that New was beginning to resent her success and new-found local celebrity. One night she saw him kissing another woman on a street corner. Despite this, the relationship remained intact for several years after the two moved to California together in 1960.
Baez first met Dylan in April 1961 at Gerde’s Folk City in New York City’s Greenwich Village. At the time, Baez had already released her debut album and her popularity as the emerging “Queen of Folk” was on the rise. Baez was initially unimpressed with the “urban hillbilly”, but was impressed with one of Dylan’s first compositions, “Song to Woody” and remarked that she would like to record it.
By 1963, Baez had already released three albums, two of which had been certified gold, and she invited Dylan on stage to perform alongside her at the Newport Folk Festival. The two performed the Dylan composition “With God on Our Side”, a performance that set the stage for many more duets like it in the months and years to come. Typically while on tour, Baez would invite Dylan to sing on stage partly by himself and partly with her, much to the chagrin of her fans.
Before meeting Dylan, Baez’s topical songs were very few: “Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream”, “We Shall Overcome”, and an assortment of Negro spirituals. Baez would later say that Dylan’s songs seemed to update the topics of protest and justice.
By the time of Dylan’s 1965 tour of the UK, their relationship had slowly begun to fizzle out. The couple are captured in D. A. Pennebaker’s documentary film Dont Look Back (1967).
Baez toured with Dylan as a performer on his Rolling Thunder Revue in 1975–76. She sang four songs with Dylan on the live album of the tour, The Bootleg Series Vol. 5: Bob Dylan Live 1975, The Rolling Thunder Revue, released in 2002. Baez appeared with Dylan in the one-hour TV special Hard Rain, filmed at Fort Collins, Colorado, in May 1976. Baez also starred as ‘The Woman in White’ in the film Renaldo and Clara (1978), directed by Bob Dylan and filmed during the Rolling Thunder Revue. They performed together at the Peace Sunday anti-nuke concert in 1982. Dylan and Baez toured together again in 1984 along with Carlos Santana.
Baez discussed her relationship with Dylan in Martin Scorsese’s documentary film No Direction Home (2005), and in the PBS American Masters biography of Baez, How Sweet the Sound (2009).
Baez wrote and composed at least three songs that were specifically about Dylan. In “To Bobby”, written in 1972, she urged Dylan to return to political activism, while in “Diamonds & Rust”, the title track from her 1975 album, she revisited her feelings for him in warm, yet direct terms. “Winds of the Old Days”, also on the Diamonds & Rust album, is a bittersweet reminiscence about her time with “Bobby”.
The references to Baez in Dylan’s songs are far less clear. Baez herself has suggested that she was the subject of both “Visions of Johanna” and “Mama, You Been on My Mind”, although the latter was more likely about his relationship with Suze Rotolo. Baez implied when speaking about the connection to “Diamonds and Rust” that “Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts” is, at least in part, a metaphor for Dylan’s view of his relationship with her. As for “Like A Rolling Stone”, “Visions of Johanna”, “She Belongs to Me”, and other songs alleged to have been written about Baez, neither Dylan nor biographers such as Clinton Heylin and Michael Gray have had anything definitive to say, either way, regarding the subject of these songs.
In October 1967, Baez, her mother and nearly 70 other women were arrested at the Oakland, California, Armed Forces Induction Center for blocking its doorways to prevent entrance by young inductees, and in support of young men who refused military induction. They were incarcerated in the Santa Rita Jail, and it was here that Baez met David Harris, who was kept on the men’s side but who still managed to visit with Baez regularly.
The two formed a close bond upon their release and Baez moved into his draft-resistance commune in the hills above Stanford, California. The pair had known each other for three months when they decided to wed. After confirming the news to Associated Press, media outlets began dedicating ample press to the impending nuptials (at one point, Time magazine referred to the event as the “Wedding of the Century”).
After finding a pacifist preacher and a church outfitted with peace signs and writing a blend of Episcopalian and Quaker wedding vows, Baez and Harris married in New York City on March 26, 1968. Her friend Judy Collins sang at the ceremony. After the wedding, Baez and Harris moved into a home in the Los Altos Hills on 10 acres (4.0 hectares) of land called Struggle Mountain, part of a commune, where they tended gardens and were strict vegetarians.
A short time later, Harris refused induction into the armed forces and was indicted. On July 16, 1969, Harris was taken by federal marshals to prison. Baez was visibly pregnant in public in the months that followed, most notably at the Woodstock Festival, where she performed a handful of songs in the early morning. The documentary film Carry It On was produced during this period, and was released in 1970. The film’s behind-the-scenes looks at Harris’s views and arrest and Baez on her subsequent performance tour was positively reviewed in Time magazine and The New York Times.
Among the songs Baez wrote about this period of her life are “A Song for David”, “Myths”, “Prison Trilogy (Billy Rose)” and “Fifteen Months” (the amount of time Harris was imprisoned).
Their son Gabriel was born on December 2, 1969. Harris was released from Texas prison after 15 months, but they separated three months after his release and the couple divorced amicably in 1973. They shared custody of Gabriel, who lived primarily with Baez. Explaining the split, Baez wrote in her autobiography: “I am made to live alone.” Baez and Harris remained on friendly terms throughout the years; they reunited on-camera for the 2009 American Masters documentary for the USA’s PBS. Their son Gabriel is a drummer and occasionally tours with his mother. He has a daughter Jasmine who also sang with Joan Baez at Kidztock in 2010.
Baez dated Apple Computer cofounder Steve Jobs during the early 1980s. A number of sources have stated that Jobs—then in his mid-20s—had considered asking Baez to marry him, except that her age at the time (early 40s) made the possibility of their having children unlikely. Baez mentioned Jobs in the acknowledgments in her 1987 memoir And a Voice to Sing With and performed at the memorial for him in 2011. After Jobs’ death, Baez spoke fondly about him, stating that even after the relationship had ended, the two remained friends, with Jobs having visited Baez shortly before his death, and stating that “Steve had a very sweet side, even if he was as … erratic as he was famous for being. But he gets genius licence for that, because he was somebody who changed the world.”
Baez is a resident of Woodside, California, where she lived with her mother until the latter’s death in 2013. She has said that her house has a backyard tree house in which she spends time meditating, writing, and “being close to nature”. She remained close to her younger sister Mimi up until Mimi’s death in 2001, and mentioned in the 2009 American Masters documentary about her life that she had grown closer to her older sister Pauline in later years.
- Folksingers ‘Round Harvard Square (1959)
- Joan Baez (1960)
- Joan Baez, Vol. 2 (1961)
- Joan Baez in Concert (1962)
- Joan Baez in Concert, Part 2 (1963)
- Joan Baez/5 (1964)
- Farewell, Angelina (1965)
- Noël (1966)
- Joan (1967)
- Baptism: A Journey Through Our Time (1968)
- Any Day Now (1968)
- David’s Album (1969)
- One Day at a Time (1970)
- Sacco & Vanzetti (1971)
- Carry It On (1971)
- Blessed Are… (1971)
- Come from the Shadows (1972)
- Where Are You Now, My Son? (1973)
- Gracias a la Vida (1974)
- Diamonds & Rust (1975)
- Gulf Winds (1976)
- Blowin’ Away (1977)
- Honest Lullaby (1979)
- Recently (1987)
- Speaking of Dreams (1989)
- Diamonds & Rust in the Bullring (1989)
- Play Me Backwards (1992)
- Gone from Danger (1997)
- Dark Chords on a Big Guitar (2003)
- Day After Tomorrow (2008)
- Whistle Down the Wind (2018)