One of the great US folk singers, as well as one of the country’s most committed and astute activists, Joan Baez is now the subject of a new documentary, Joan Baez: I Am a Noise, which charts her final tour and the richness of her 82-year life. Ahead of its US release on 6 October, she is joining us to answer your questions – post them in the comments below.
Born in New York City with her heritage stretching to Mexico and Scotland, Baez had a similarly cosmopolitan childhood with her father’s work for Unesco taking her across the world. She was inspired by US folk singers such as Pete Seeger, and her music career began in the clubs and coffee houses of Boston, earning a record contract after she was spotted at the Newport folk festival in 1959.
She quickly helped to establish the growing craze for folk-pop singer-songwriters, with her debut solo album charting highly in the US and UK, and songs such as We Shall Overcome and There But for Fortune also becoming hits. She crossed paths with luminaries such as Bob Dylan – the two performed together and had a romantic relationship – and Martin Luther King, who visited her in prison when she was jailed for protesting.
That ended up being just one of many expressions of activism throughout her life, ranging from championing civil and LGBTQ+ rights, pacifist protest against various wars, and raising awareness about the climate crisis. She has refused political binaries in favour of her own clear-sighted ethical code – for example, she was unafraid to make enemies on the US left by criticising the communist government in Vietnam after the war.
While continuing to record and play music throughout her life – a cover of the Band’s The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down notably became a No 3 hit in the US in 1971 – she inspired generations in their own activism, including Václav Havel, a dissident against Soviet rule in Czechoslovakia who posed as her roadie to watch her perform 1989, and who became the country’s first democratically elected president the same year.
From Live Aid to Occupy Wall Street, she has been a model of fearlessly using music to effect change. Post your questions about anything in her astonishing life before Friday 15 September, and her answers will be published on 6 October.