Women’s History Month: Singing from the Core of Her Being

Janis Joplin “Greatest Hits” Album Cover (Columbia Records, Sony Music Entertainment)

With “Piece of My Heart,” Janis Joplin became a sensation!   Audiences had never experienced such fiery intensity in a female rock star!!  That high, husky, earthy, explosive voice remains distinctive.

Janis recorded “Piece of My Heart” in 1968 when she was part of the psychedelic rock band Big Brother and the Holding Company.   “Piece of My Heart” shot to the number 1 spot on the charts and “Cheap Thrills,” the album it is on, sold one million copies in a month.  “Piece of My Heart” is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.

Janis Lyn Joplin was born in Port Arthur, TX on January 19, 1943.  She called herself a “misfit” in high school where she was ostracized.  “I’m one of those regular weird people,” she said.  In her teens she discovered Lead Belly (Huddie Ledbetter, an iconic American folk and blues musician noted for his strong vocals), Bessie Smith (a popular blues singer of the 1920s and 1930s who was nicknamed the Empress of the Blues) and Big Mama Thornton (Willie Mae Thornton, an American rhythm and blues singer and songwriter).  It was the authenticity of their voices that influenced Janis to become a singer.

Janis left Big Brother.  She put together her own band, the Kozmic Blues Band, and released “I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again Mama!,” which went gold.  That was in 1969, when she also performed at Woodstock, a three-day music festival during which 32 acts performed for some 500,000 concert-goers.  The festival was captured in a documentary movie, “Woodstock,” and the accompanying soundtrack.

In 1970 Janis assembled a new backup group, the Full Tilt Boogie Band, and recorded her final album, “Pearl,” which includes Kris Kristofferson’s “Me and Bobby McGee” and Janis’s “Mercedes Benz.”  Janis died October 4, 1970 in Los Angeles at age 27.  “Pearl” was released in 1971.  It became the top-selling release of her career.  In 2003, it was ranked #122 on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.

In 1995 Janis was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  In 2004 Rolling Stone magazine ranked her number 46 on its list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All time.  In 2005 she was given a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.  In 2008 Rolling Stone magazine ranked her number 28 on its list of the 100 Greatest Singers of All time.  According to the official Janis Joplin website, “But such honors only made official what rock fans already knew:  that she was among the greatest, most powerful singers the form had ever known – and that she’d opened the door for countless artists across the musical spectrum.”

As Janis herself said, “Don’t compromise yourself.  You are all you’ve got.”

Visit Janis Joplin’s official webiste: www.janisjoplin.com

Check out Janis Joplin on our “Women in Music” playlist.

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