‘The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down’: JOAN BAEZ

Calla Lily ProfileArleen Solomon Rotchin2 Comments

Her sense of commitment and unmistakable voice continues to win acclaim both in the United States and abroad.  

She was born Joan Chandos Baez, the daughter of a physicist of Mexican descent whose teachings took him to various communities in New York, California and elsewhere.  

She had little musical training.  Her first instrument was a ukulele but she soon learned to accompany her clear soprano voice on the guitar.  Her youthful attractiveness and activist energy put her in the forefront of the 1960’s folk music revival, popularizing traditional songs through her performances in coffeehouses, at music festivals, on television and through her albums which were best sellers from 1960 through 1964. 

She was instrumental in the early career of Bob Dylan, with whom she was romantically involved for several years.

When asked about her take on Dylan getting the Nobel Prize for Literature recently she said, ‘I think it’s absolutely wonderful.  I don’t understand the technicalities and semantic problems young people have with it.  I think his manners suck and his words deserve the Nobel Prize.  

‘His manner suck?’ asked the interviewer.

‘Well, wouldn’t you call back and say Gee thanks if you got the Nobel Prize?  You know, I got the message!’

Joan was an active participant in the 1960’s protest movement.  She gave free concert appearances for UNESCO, civil rights organizations and anti-Vietnam War rallies.

In 1964 she refused to pay federal taxes that went toward war expenses and she was jailed twice in 1967.  The following year she married David Harris, a leader in the national movement to oppose the draft, who served nearly two years in prison for refusing to comply with his draft summons.  Their son Gabriel was born in 1969 and they divorced in 1973.  Gabriel is a drummer and occasionally tours with his mother.

She first heard Martin Luther King Jr. speak in 1956 about nonviolence and social change which brought tears to her eyes.  Several years later, the two became friends with Baez participating in many of the Civil Rights Movement that Dr. King helped organize.

The early years of Joan Baez’s career saw the civil-rights movement in the United States become a prominent issue.

Baez at the March on Washington August 28th, 1963 (Roland Sherman/NARA)

Baez at the March on Washington August 28th, 1963 (Roland Sherman/NARA)

In 1966, she stood in the fields alongside Cesar Chavez and California migrant farm workers as they fought for fair wages and safe working conditions and performed a benefit on behalf of the United Farm Workers union.  She was at Chavez’s side during his 24-day fast to draw attention to the farmworkers struggle and can be seen singing We Shall Overcome during his fast in the film about the UFW.  

On December 20, 2016, it was announced that Joan Baez is a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame class of 2017.

She said of this honor, ‘I never considered myself to be a rock and roll artist but as part of the folk music boom which contributed to and influenced the rock revolution of the 60’s.  I am proud that some of the songs I sang made their way into the Rock lexicon.  And I very much appreciate this honor and acknowledgement by the Hall of Fame.’

Joan Baez is still the mother of us all…………….