Thursday, October 15, 2009

Joan Baez

Last night, I watched American Masters on PBS. This episode was about Joan Baez. I have to admit that I slowed in my channel surfing only because a) there was nothing else on - can you tell we don't have cable or satelite? and b) Joan Baez is a musician. I've known OF Joan Baez, but I guess I had pretty much thought that I knew what she was about: peace, folk music, and the 60s.

I have to say that I was drawn into this look into Joan Baez's life. I got a better understanding of why she got involved with the activism that she did. I learned that her family were Quakers - thus she grew up learning non-violence. As a young child, she challenged the things that she thought were wrong. As a senior in high school, she protested the school nuclear drills because she felt the were ineffectual and served no real purpose.

It seems that she got into the folk music scene quite by accident. She had taught herself the guitar growing up and sang with one of her sisters (Oh, how I can relate to that!). She tried college (well, more was attending college on paper) and got playing in the right town (Boston) at the right time. She ended up on stage at a folk festival and poof! She was christened Queen of Folk Music! If only it was like that for the rest of us!

Whether you agree with Joan Baez's political philosophies or not, I think you should at least admire her steadfastness to her convictions of non-violence and peaceful protest. This was a woman who walked the walk - not just talked the talk. She was walking with the protesters in the South working for racial equality. She spoke out against war (whether past or present). She has put herself in dangerous areas so that she could see for herself what was going on.

One thing that I think present protesters (whatever they are protesting for or against) miss something that I saw in Joan Baez. Joan would protest not by shouting or slandering. She didn't resist any law enforcement presence. There were no signs with hateful words. She would say her piece softly but strongly. She understood that she was making a statement and that in order for it to have any power, she had to do it peacefully and respectfully. When she got arrested, there was no dragging her heels or trying to be a dead weight. There was no yelling or taunting of law enforcement. She went quickly and quietly with law enforcement and went through the process.

As a singer, Joan's voice is very iconic. You hear a song that she is singing and you immediately know that it is her. Perhaps because I am a fellow soprano with a fairly light and quick vibrato, but there is something comforting in her voice. I admit that I don't have any of Joan Baez's music myself, but perhaps I'll have to rethink that now.

What about you? Is there a person (musician or not) who had an impact on you in some way?

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