January 19, 1943 – October 4, 1970 (27 years old)
Janis Lyn Joplin was an American singer-songwriter who first rose to fame in the late 1960s as the lead singer of the psychedelic-acid rock band Big Brother and the Holding Company, and later as a solo artist with her own backing groups, The Kozmic Blues Band and The Full Tilt Boogie Band. She was one of the more popular acts at the Monterey Pop Festival and later became one of the major attractions to the Woodstock festival and the Festival Express train tour. Joplin charted five singles, and other popular songs from her four-year solo career include "Down on Me", "Summertime", "Piece of My Heart", "Ball 'n' Chain", "Maybe", "To Love Somebody", "Kozmic Blues", "Work Me, Lord", "Cry Baby", "Mercedes Benz", and her only number one hit, "Me and Bobby McGee". Joplin was well known for her performing abilities, and her fans referred to her stage presence as "electric". At the height of her career, she was known as "The Queen of Psychedelic Soul," and became known as Pearl among her friends. She was also a painter, dancer and music arranger. Rolling Stone ranked Joplin number 46 on its list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time in 2004, and number 28 on its 2008 list of 100 Greatest Singers of All Time. She was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995.
Janis Joplin was born in Port Arthur, Texas, on January 19, 1943, to Dorothy (née East) Joplin (1913–1998), a registrar at a business college, and her husband, Seth Joplin (1910–1987), an engineer at Texaco. She had two younger siblings, Michael and Laura. The family attended the Church of Christ. The Joplins felt that Janis always needed more attention than their other children, with her mother stating, "She was unhappy and unsatisfied without [receiving a lot of attention]. The normal rapport wasn't adequate." As a teenager, she befriended a group of outcasts, one of whom had albums by African-American bluesartists Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey and Lead Belly, whom Joplin later credited with influencing her decision to become a singer. She began singing in the local choir and expanded her listening to blues singers such as Odetta, Billie Holiday and Big Mama Thornton.
Primarily a painter while still in school, she first began singing blues and folk music with friends. While at Thomas Jefferson High School, she stated that she was mostly shunned. Joplin was quoted as saying, "I was a misfit. I read, I painted, I didn't hate ni**ers." As a teen, she became overweight and her skin broke out so badly she was left with deep scars which required dermabrasion. Other kids at high school would routinely taunt her and call her names like "pig", "freak", "ni**er lover" or "creep". Among her classmates were G. W. Bailey and Jimmy Johnson. Joplin graduated from high school in 1960 and attended Lamar State College of Technology in Beaumont, Texas, during the summer and later the University of Texas at Austin, though she did not complete her studies.
Joplin appeared at Woodstock in the late hours of Saturday, August 16, 1969. She performed until the early morning hours of Sunday, August 17. Despite her not even knowing of the festival's existence, the Woodstock promoters were advertising her as a headliner. She thus became one of the main attractions of the historic concert. Her friend, Peggy Caserta, claimed in a 1973 book that she had encouraged a reluctant Joplin to perform at Woodstock. Joplin informed her band that they would be performing at the concert as if it were just another gig. When she and the band were flown in by helicopter with the pregnant Joan Baez and her mother from a nearby motel to the festival site and Joplin saw the enormous crowd, she instantly became incredibly nervous and giddy. Upon landing and getting off the helicopter, Joplin was approached by reporters asking her questions. She deferred them to Caserta as she was too excited to speak. Initially Joplin was eager to get on the stage and perform, but she kept getting delayed as bands were contractually obliged to perform before her. Faced with a ten-hour wait after arriving at the backstage area, she shot heroin with Caserta and was drinking alcohol, so by the time she hit the stage, she was "three sheets to the wind". Joplin took the stage following Creedence Clearwater Revival. On stage her voice became slightly hoarse and wheezy and she found it hard to dance.
Throughout her performance she frequently spoke to the crowd, asking them if they had everything they needed and if they were staying stoned. She pulled through, however, and the audience was so pleased they cheered her on for an encore, to which she replied and sang "Ball and Chain." Her performances of "Kozmic Blues" and "Work Me, Lord" at Woodstock are notable, though her voice breaks while she sings.
Pete Townshend, who performed with The Who later in the same morning after Joplin finished, witnessed her performance and said the following in his 2012 memoir: "She had been amazing at Monterey, but tonight she wasn't at her best, due, probably, to the long delay, and probably, too, to the amount of booze and heroin she'd consumed while she waited. But even Janis on an off-night was incredible."
Janis remained at Woodstock for the remainder of the festival. She is said to have really enjoyed Sly and The Family Stone's performance, who came on immediately after her. Joan Baez also revealed in her autobiography that she and Joplin witnessed Hendrix's close-of-show performance from Joe Cocker's van.
On October 4, 1970, producer Paul A. Rothchild became concerned when Joplin failed to show up at Sunset Sound Recorders for a recording session. Full Tilt Boogie's road manager, John Cooke, drove to the Landmark Motor Hotel in Hollywood where Janis was staying. He saw Joplin's psychedelically painted Porsche 356C Cabriolet in the parking lot. Upon entering Joplin's room (#105), he found her dead on the floor beside her bed. The official cause of death was an overdose of heroin, possibly compounded by alcohol. Cooke believes that Joplin had accidentally been given heroin that was much more potent than normal, as several of her dealer's other customers also overdosed that week. Peggy Caserta and Seth Morgan had both stood up Joplin the Friday immediately prior to her death, October 2, and according to the book Going Down With Janis, Joplin was saddened that neither of her friends visited her at the Landmark Motor Hotel as they had promised.
Joplin's will funded $2,500 to throw a wake party in the event of her demise. The party, which took place October 26, 1970, at the Lion's Share in San Anselmo, California, was attended by Joplin's sister Laura, fiancé Seth Morgan, and close friends, including tattoo artist Lyle Tuttle, Bob Gordon, Jack Penty, and road manager Cooke.
Joplin's death in October 1970 at the age of 27 stunned her fans and shocked the music world, especially when coupled with the death just sixteen days earlier of another rock icon, Jimi Hendrix, also at age 27. Music historian Tom Moon wrote that Joplin had "a devastatingly original voice". Music columnist Jon Pareles of the New York Times wrote that Joplin as an artist was "overpowering and deeply vulnerable". Author Megan Terry claimed that Joplin was the female version of Elvis Presley in her ability to captivate an audience.
Joplin had a profound influence on many singers. P!nk aka Alecia Moore, says Janis Joplin was her ultimate influence. P!nk has performed a live version of a Janis Joplin medley, which can be seen on her 'Live in Europe' DVD. She talks about how Janis represented 'Freedom'. P!nk is often described as possessing similar characteristics as Janis, such as: a hoarse, husky sounding voice and even the same laugh. P!nk has once stated: "I would love to play her (Janis) in a movie". Florence Welchof Florence and The Machine spoke of Joplin's impact on her own musical prowess in an interview for Why Music Matters in a commercial against piracy:
I learnt about Janis from an anthology of female blues singers. Janis was a fascinating character who bridged the gap between psychedelic blues and soul scenes. She was so vulnerable, self-conscious and full of suffering. She tore herself apart yet on stage she was totally different. She was so unrestrained, so free, so raw and she wasn't afraid to wail. Her connection with the audience was really important. It seems to me the suffering and intensity of her performance go hand in hand. There was always a sense of longing, of searching for something. I think she really sums up the idea that soul is about putting your pain into something beautiful.
Stevie Nicks considers Joplin one of her idols, saying:
You could say that being yelled at by Janis Joplin was one of the great honors of my life. Early in my career, Lindsey Buckingham and I were in a band called Fritz. There were two gigs we played in San Francisco that changed everything for me - One was opening up for Jimi Hendrix, who was completely magical. The other was the time that we opened up for Janis at the San Jose Fairgrounds, around 1970.
It was a hot summer day, and things didn't start off well because the entire show was running late. That meant our set was running over. We were onstage and going over pretty well, when I turned and saw a furious Janis Joplin on the side of the stage, yelling at us. She was screaming something like, "What the f**k are you a**holes doing? Get the hell off of my stage." Actually, she might have even been a little cruder than that — it was hard to hear.
But then Janis got up on that stage with her band, and this woman who was screaming at me only moments before suddenly became my new hero. Janis Joplin was not what anyone would call a great beauty, but she became beautiful because she made such a powerful and deep emotional connection with the audience. I didn't mind the feathers and the bell-bottom pants either. Janis didn't dress like anyone else, and she definitely didn't sing like anyone else.
Janis put herself out there completely, and her voice was not only strong and soulful, it was painfully and beautifully real. She sang in the great tradition of the rhythm & blues singers that were her heroes, but she brought her own dangerous, sexy rock & roll edge to every single song. She really gave you a piece of her heart. And that inspired me to find my own voice and my own style.
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