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Joan Baez Thanks Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for ‘Unlikely’ Induction

Mike Coppola, Getty Images
Mike Coppola, Getty Images

Joan Baez‘s Friday night induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was a celebration of one of the most enduring activists of the ’60s, a singer-songwriter who impacted acts as disparate as Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin and Judas Priest.

She was introduced at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., by Jackson Browne. “From the moment she appeared in the Cambridge folk scene, she had a spellbinding effect on her audiences,” he raved. “The first record I ever bought with my own money was Joan Baez’s second album. … I went into that listening booth, and right away I was taken with what was, for me, completely new music. Just voice and guitar, but so ethereal, powerfully in tune, deeply expressive, dramatic, hypnotic. By the third song, I was completely mesmerized.”

Baez began her acceptance speech by thanking the Rock Hall “for this somewhat unlikely induction,” then brought the house down with a slightly self-deprecating tale. “I’m aware that I’m speaking to many young people who, without this induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, would have no clue who I am. My granddaughter had no clue who I was, until I took her backstage at a Taylor Swift concert, where she got a selfie, an autograph, a T-shirt and newfound respect for her grandmother.”

She then got more serious in acknowledging her contributions to rock history. “Though one cannot say I’m a rock ‘n’ roll artist, one cannot overlook the folk music of the ’60s, and the immense effect it had on popular music, including rock ‘n’ roll. Nor can anyone overlook the role that I played in that phenomenon. I was lucky enough to have found my voice when coffee shops were the order of the day.”

After her speech, Baez opened her induction set with the traditional song “Swing Low Sweet Chariot,” then was joined by the Indigo Girls and Mary Chapin Carpenter for the topical “Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos Canyon)” and finally a cover of the Band‘s “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.” She took that song to No. 3 on the Billboard singles charts after its release on 1971’s gold-selling Blessed Are.

The night was a culmination of a career that began at the dawn of the ’60s. At 19, Baez had already issued her self-titled 1960 debut, featuring a notable update of “House of the Rising Sun.” She met Dylan, a future boyfriend, the following year at Gerde’s Folk City in New York, though he initially was said to have had his eye on Joan’s younger sister Mimi. The couple rose to prominence together, at first. Dylan subsequently included “House of the Rising Sun” on his debut as well – opening the door for the Animals‘ 1964 smash-hit rendition.

They weren’t the only ones listening. Joan Baez in Concert followed in 1962 with her take on “Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You,” a song Baez picked up on the folk circuit. Led Zeppelin, who were big fans, did a sprawling revamp of the tune for their paradigm-shifting 1969 debut. By the end of the decade, Baez had tagged along with Dylan on his first U.K. tour (a period memorably captured in the film Don’t Look Back), appeared at Woodstock and worked with artists like Phil Ochs and Johnny Cash, among others. Songs she recorded later showed up on albums by the groups including the Byrds and the Association.

That opened the door for her radio success with “Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.” She scored another Top 40 favorite in 1975 with the title track from Diamonds and Rust, a song covered just two years later by Judas Priest on Sin After Sin.

Diamonds and Rust also went gold, but that marked Baez final significant album-chart entry. She was without a label affiliation for a period in the ’80s. Still, her status as one of the most significant figures in folk remained. Baez opened the Philadelphia edition of 1985’s Live Aid. She’d later collaborate with John Mellencamp, among others, while remaining committed to peace and justice throughout the world. Baez received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2007.

This year’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony will debut on HBO at 8PM ET on April 29.

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Next: How Joan Baez Influenced Led Zeppelin, Judas Priest and Bob Dylan

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