Skip to main content

The Music of Joan Baez and Her Quaker Background


Joan Baez, Newport and then Woodstock

Joan Baez came on the music scene early in the 1960s. She performed at the Newport Music Festival in 1959 before the era of easy video and sound recording, so not much remains of the music of that festival and what is available is pretty rough. Later, there was more Newport events and then came the big event, Woodstock in 1969. A friend of mine who was at this first Woodstock commented that it was late in the first evening (about 1 AM) and he was very tired. Then this voice came over the sound system, so absolutely beautiful that he sat straight up and was enraptured for over an hour; that voice was Joan Baez. The later Woodstock festivals have been much better organized and recorded.

Joan was known for her beautiful and haunting soprano voice. She became very involved in the music of the 1960s, the ballads, the songs from the hills and, ultimately, her protest songs. She sang songs that pointed out what was wrong in our American culture. She was one of the original "peaceniks" and wasn't afraid to say so and to demonstrate whenever possible. She spent time in jail for her activities in the peace movements during the Vietnam War and still remains active today in her early 70s.

I, personally, was in the military before and during the early 1960s and going to college after being discharged in 1964. At that time, the music scene was being invaded by the Beetles in their early foray into the music world. At the college, those of us who were recently in the military were very conservative regarding music. I and others like me would not even attempt to acknowledge the genius of the Beetles; at this point we did not pay much attention to those who performed at the various music festivals such as Newport and later, Woodstock.

At this point in history, American involvement in Vietnam in was in the form of military advisory group activities (MAG) which gradually escalated into full scale war. Young men were needed as cannon fodder and as a result, the military draft was reinstituted. All of this set the stage for much of the music of Joan Baez and others, they protested through their music and very successfully.. Joan was particularly known for her rendition of "We Shall Overcome", the last song of the night at Woodstock. Woodstock was very important, it set the stage for Joan Baez to surge to the front of the music world in her genre of protest music. At Woodstock, she performed for about one hour.

During this era, her husband, David Harris, was sent to jail for not reporting for the draft and Joan, herself, was arrested twice and spent time in jail for blocking the door to the Oakland (CA) draft induction center. She spent time in North Vietnam singing for American POWs and was actually in Hanoi during the intense bombing that took place for about ten days, an American escalation in the price of war for North Vietnam. She reported that she and others greatly feared for their lives. Another interesting fact that came out of her visit to Hanoi was that her eyes were opened and she saw the evils of Communism in its treatment of its subject populations. She then protested against that evil as well as the evils of war rather than remaining a marxist fellow traveler like Jane Fonda and others of her ilk.

Some songs of Joan Baez at Woodstock in 1969

Oh Happy Day

The Last Thing On My Mind

Joan told the story about how the Federal Marshalls came to take David Harris into custody during an intermission at this point. She told the Woodstock audience about how her husband, David Harris, was arrested and imprisoned for three years because he ignored his draft notice. Later he founded an organization which encouraged men to ignore or tear up their draft notices. These songs that were sung by Joan at Woodstock on that first evening were not all well recorded at Woodstock and in the case of the song Hickory Farm, another young couple recorded it on UTube and I placed that recording here because that was all I could find.

No Expectations

Joe Hill

Sweet Sir Galahad

Hickory Wind

Drug Store Truck Driving Man

I Live One Day at a Time

Take Me Back to the Sweet Sunny South

Let Me Wrap You in My Warm and Tender Love

Swing Low, Sweet Chariot

Scroll to Continue

We Shall Overcome

The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down

Almost all of the Newport songs and the later Woodstock songs were sung later and in more favorable circumstances with better recording and of course, many with records being produced. Almost all of her music is available today on CDs and on the the internet via UTube. And also many other songs such as some of my favorites such as Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, The Day They Drove Old Dixie Down, and Green Grass of Home.

Joans Biography

Wikipedia has an excellent biography about Joan. She was born January 9, 1941, in Staten Island, New York. Her parents were Albert Baez and Joan Bridge Baez. She had two sisters, Pauline and Mimi.Because of her fathers employment with UNESCO, the family moved many times around the world. She lived in the U. S., England, France, Switzerland, Spain, Canada and the Middle East during her childhood.

In 1958, her father, a brilliant man, accepted a professorship at Massachusetts Institute of Technology after studies in mathematics and physics. He was a co-inventor of the X-ray microscope. That brought about a move to Massachusetts where Joan, after six weeks at Boston College, became interested in the local, up-and-coming folk music movement. Although her father had early in his life entered the ministry as a Methodist minister, the family later converted as a group to the Quaker faith. This faith engendered much of the desire for peace and human equity that became part and parcel of Joan's activities throughout her life. The Wikipedia website mentioned above gives much more about her life as well as the many records and musical appearances that she has made throughout the years. At present, she is quietly living in Woodside, California with her mother.

Biographical Material about Joan Baez

A Music Offering


John Reeder (author) from Reedley, CA on July 11, 2015:

antiwarmonger, your comment is appreciated, but Pol Pot had very little to do with Vietnam and that war, that was a separate domino falling over as the DC power structure defined it. I know all about the Cambodian debacle because I had many of the sons and daughters of the Cambodian elite in my college classroom in Merced. Wars are part of the world culture brought about by the many evil power structures such as whoever is currently funding the ISIS mess. The name of the game for them is basically greed and the desire for money and power at any cost. People are nothing but pawns in their opinion, as Timothy of infamous memory stated, their deaths are nothing but collateral damage.

Pol Pot and the People's Republic of Kampuchea more or less ceased to exist in 1981. But, the UN refused to recognize the new government and continued to give the UN seat for the nation to Pol Pot and his fellow criminals.

antiwarmonger on July 11, 2015:

dunno how ignorant her hubby really was, there are BAD PEOPLE out there who want to take over the world and spread their tyranny and oppression..

as much as a bad war vietnam was it was a REAL war, the POL POT was legit and after the US was forced or say they were forced to withdraw for violent tacits so afeterwords the pol pot and kmher rouge went on a murderous spree murdering over TWO MILLION of the nations most intelligent, they went for doctors, teacher anyone with any sort of qualifications as they KNEW the only way to take over and stay in was to have a nation of illiterate,

the pol pot had a lot of help from the people in the US who helped condemn and remove troops from the region, had the troops stayed and the US pushed on and secured the region the pol pot would have been captured or dead and he would have been able to kill all those innocent people

however the pol pot was able to SPREAD viscous untrue lies to the media and got his way,once the troops left he carried on with his spree

SO NEVER LISTEN TO VISCOUS "propaganda" the US had that war won maybe 6 more months and the commies surrenderer and all those lives spared

surely no one likes war, why would they, but there are BAD PEOPLE on this rock who want ot do BAD THINGS to everyone








some like these leaders have the resources to COMPLETELY change your way of live and THEY HAVE many many times and most of the time they were successful by fooling the people, all the way back to the very first recorded writings of wars it was subterfuge, lies and foolish people!!!

Jen from Couch on October 11, 2011:

Awesome hub! Voted up/useful/awesome/beautiful/interesting, I really love Joan Baez. This hub was so well written and painted a picture of both her and her music in a beautiful light. Thanks for posting this :) and Welcome to Hubpages by the way! I see you're new here. I hope you are liking it so far!

Related Articles