As I have previously written, one of my all time heroes is Pete Seeger. There is another person in my pantheon of those extraordinary human beings who “walked the walk”, Joan Baez.
Born on January 9, 1941 on Staten Island, she has lead a most interesting and inspirational life. Her father, Albert Baez, was a physicist who co-developed the X-ray reflection microscope and could have become wealthy working in the defense industry but instead turned to education and humanitarian endeavors.
From 1950 to 1956, he held a professorship at the University of Redlands, where he continued his X-ray research. Baez took a yearlong leave to work with UNESCO in 1951, stationing his family in Baghdad to establish the physics department and laboratory at Baghdad University. In 1959, Baez accepted a faculty position at MIT, and moved his family to the Boston area. In 1960, working with the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, MA, he developed optics for an X-ray telescope. Later that year he moved to the faculty of Harvey Mudd College, and moved his family to Claremont, California. From 1961 to 1967, he directed science teaching for UNESCO in Paris.It was in Baghdad that she says she was first moved by the plight of the oppressed and poor.
Joan stayed behind in Boston and became a part of the emerging folk scene and the rest is history.
Joan talks about her start there and the musicians that influenced her in American Masters - Outtakes from Joan Baez: How Sweet the Sound.
From the civil rights movement to Vietnam antiwar protest to founding the USA section of Amnesty International and founding her own human-rights group in the late 1970s, Joan has been “Boots on the ground”, whether it be in South and Central America during the ‘80, or Eastern Europe during the break up of the Soviet bloc or giving a concert in Sarajevo in 1993.
For a complete chronology visit her web page, it quite an amazing timeline.
There are so many songs she has performed and recorded it would be impossible to choose even a top 25. However, even though she popularized many Bob Dylan and other songwriter’s songs of the day, the one that moves me to this day is “Birmingham Sunday”, written by her brother-in-law Richard Farina.
An amazing human being.
"I went to jail for 11 days for disturbing the peace; I was trying to disturb the war."
Joan Baez, 1967