Joan Baez Performs at the 32nd Annual Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony
Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage for Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Inductee Insights: Joan Baez and Folk's Impact on Rock

INDUCTEE INSIGHTS EXPLORES THE ARTISTS THAT HAVE CHANGED THE COURSE OF ROCK’S SONIC HISTORY.

2017 Inductee Joan Baez’s voice has commanded her audience for 40-plus years. Whether she's in a Cambridge coffee shop or onstage at the Newport Folk Festival, Baez's natural instrument and accomplished interpretive skills have captivated audiences inside and out of the folk community.

Follow Baez's sonic history and watch the full Inductee Insights episode, powered by PNC Bank.

Baez and the folk community

Whether it’s her naturally sweeping soprano or her firmly delivered lyrics, Baez has taken a direct approach to folk and rock for the last 40-plus years.

A mainstay in the folk community, Baez was a young woman when she was first inspired by some of the early-to-mid 50’s folk artists at the time. As Baez matured in age and sound, her interests in social justice issues and community building made their way into her songs.

Artists like Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Odetta and Pete Ochs would help Baez shape her own sound. 

Shaping her voice

Baez’s voice commanded her audience, whether her performance was in a Cambridge coffee shop or onstage at the Newport Folk Festival. Her natural instrument boasted a three-octave range and rapid vibrato.

Her operatic voice transformed traditional folk ballads and deepened the passion felt in her protest songs and covers of other artists.

As an accomplished interpreter, Baez was not only revered for her original compositions but also for her distinctive covers of popular songs by artists from the Allman Brothers to Stevie Wonder and the Rolling Stones. Her evocative interpretations of “We Shall Overcome” and “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” became prominent during the Civil Rights Movement in the 60’s.

Baez also paved the way for other folk artists to take the stage – including Bob Dylan.

She met the unknown troubadour in 1961 and helped guide him in both performance and songwriting, most notably in 1963 when she invited him onstage to duet during the Newport Folk Festival. The two collaborated and performed together on and off over the years.

Developing interpretive skills

Joan Baez did not just sample another musician’s work or cover what she admired – Baez’s interpretive skills allowed her to expand the emotional depth and sophistication of a song, making it uniquely her own.

Her empathetic approach to recording another’s music attracted others to record what she found special, which also brought to light other talented artists put in the spotlight by Baez’s interpretations. Led Zeppelin, whose rendition of “Babe, I’m Going to Leave You” was originally inspired by Baez’s second album and was featured on their debut album, was originally composed by little-known folk artist Anne Bredon. 

Other notable artists who have followed Baez’s original songs or popular covers include a wide range of artists such as John Mayer, Sturgill Simpson, the Dixie Chicks and Judas Priest, whose recreation of “Diamonds and Rust” from Baez’s same-titled 1975 album stays emotionally close to the original recording, despite the instrumental differences used in each performance.

Interpretation of song isn’t simple mimicry. A protest song isn’t fixed on one place or time in history. Joan Baez’s enchanting voice and emotive abilities have powerful results

Whether Baez is singing an original composition or dialing in a new interpretation of a previously recorded song, her dedication to making the spirit of the subject matter known is what has carried her through the duration of her career.  

Inductee Bio

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