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Inspired by the many Italians who have recently taken to singing from their balconies, Joan Baez, a few weeks ago dedicated a video (filmed from her house of course) in which she sings “A world of love” by Morandi: a small gesture of many, to give voice to those who do not have one and find themselves in difficulty. Now we see her with short, grey hair but she still has that enlightened look and smile on her face of when, after having discovered she had a talent, she decided to pick up a guitar and use it to fight for the best
Joan Baez was born in New York, 1941, to a well-known Mexican physicist and a professor of Scottish literature. High moral conscience already distinguished her family after her father refused a highly remunerated collaboration with the “Manhattan Project” for the construction of an atomic bomb, as well as other uses in war industries.
Joan lived a nomadic childhood, often moving around the world according to her father’s assignments. One place in particular where she spent time was Baghdad. It was in Baghdad that she came into contact with the misery and violence of such areas, and it was an experience that marked her deeply.
From a very young age she played the ukulele and practiced singing at school. Joan later enrolled at the University of Boston, finding a stimulating environment and playing in the famous coffee houses, intoning the ancient traditional folk ballads while elsewhere commercial music reigned. It was during one of these performances that she was noted for her crystalline voice and unmistakable vibrato, and invited to sing at the Newport Folk Festival. This occassion gave her the opportunity to make her career debut: she began to record records with a gradually increasing success, and her concerts were always sold out.
In Greenwich Village, New York, she met an original boy who looked like a mountaineer but who sang deep and committed songs. Joan was impressed and began an artistic partnership with him, taking him to her performances and introducing him to the great public. It was Bob Dylan, who was unknown at the time, while Joan, at the age of 22, was already a star thanks to her union of folk with songs that reflected current affairs. Together the pair shared the civil commitment against war and discrimination, and their duet to the march of Martin Luther King in Washington in 1963, is well known. For three years the couple also shared a sentimental union. Although it did not last, Baez always maintained a respectful relationship towards Bob, as did he with her.
Joan increasingly combined music with activism, participating in marches and interpreting unconventional, meaningful songs in the places most in need of help, risking her life and even ending up in prison for a period. In Vietnam, alongside Václav Havel and Sacharov, she was bombarded by her nation against the Chilean dictatorship and the case of the desaparecidos in South America, where she was hunted until she reached the middle of the conflict in Sarajevo and Iraq. She went as far as to incite not to pay (and not to do it herself) the 6% of the taxes destined for the armament, leading her to be accused of anti-Americanism. Meanwhile, after attending the Woodstock festival, she was given the name of “Woodstock’s nightingale“, together with that of “barefoot lady” because she often went on stage barefoot, dressed in simple clothes and with her long, black hair loose, looking for direct contact with her listeners.
In 1968, she married the pacifist Davis Harris, who opposed the mandatory leverage. Together they had a son, however, this relationship also lasted just a few years. She had other men in her life (including another famous revolutionary, Steve Jobs), but never remarried, saying she was “made to live alone”.
In addition to defending civil rights she also dedicated herself to the LGBT cause, the environmental issue – together with Julia Butterfly Hill she lived for a period in a tree to prevent the felling of a redwood forest in view of an industrial plant – , opposed the death penalty, fought for the abolition of torture, founded the “Institute for the Study of Non-Violence“, and carried out an infinite amount of other actions in support of the discriminated, the weak and the oppressed.
Today, Joan Baez is 80 years old and lives in California. In 2018, due to her voice no longer being able to hold certain notes, she announced her last tour. Below, however, you can find an original and varied taste of her performances:
- Will you go Lassie go – an Irish / Scottish ballad
- The night they drove old dixie down – with a danceable rhythm, but in reality the story of a southerner who fought in the American civil war
- Guantanamera – Joan Baez’s version of the Cuban folk song that celebrates love and the fight against slavery
- Saigon Bride – tear-jerking song about a Vietnamese fighter’s farewell to his bride
- Love is just a four-letter word – song written by Dylan and never recorded or sung, on the illusions of love
- House of rising sun – with acute and mysterious tones, about a girl who tries to protect her sister from her mistakes.
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“Whistle Down The Wind” – Joan Baez