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Saint Joan

For a lot of people, the name Joan Baez is a bit like that of Obi-Wan Kenobi in the original Star Wars movie: Young people have never heard it, and older people nod their heads knowingly and say things like, "Now that's a name I haven't heard in a long, long time." But despite the slow fade over the past two decades, Baez has left a fingerprint on modern music that will not be erased any time soon.

As the folk voice of the pre-Beatles 1960s, Baez helped along the careers of almost every other famed name of the scene, from Bob Dylan to Joni Mitchell. Baez is the link between folk singer/songwriters such as Dylan and the traditional folk that came before them, which figures heavily in Baez's first few albums. She also played a leading role in the antiwar movement, marrying rabid protest leader David Harris and, like Jane Fonda, being earmarked as a commie for visiting Hanoi before the Vietnam War's end. Luckily for Baez, her next album after the dreadful Hanoi-visit concept album Where Are You Now, My Son? was Diamonds & Rust, probably her best effort ever. Released, coincidentally enough, the same year Dylan released his marriage-on-the-rocks masterpiece Blood on the Tracks, the title song of Diamonds & Rust relates the tale of Dylan and Baez's brief love affair -- hey, it was the 1960s... free love and all that. But more important, Diamonds & Rust set Baez up as a force to be reckoned with in pop music, removing her from the quaint folk role she had taken up in the '60s.

Baez enjoyed pop success throughout the 1970s, but a series of label changes and the heavier direction taken by mainstream rock spelled her doom, at least in terms of large-scale success. Baez disappeared in the 1980s until 1988's Recently. Two albums were put out in the 1990s, including her most recent, 1997's Gone from Danger. But her cult status remains intact, and those older folks who remember her name are drawn as bees to honey.

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Dan Sweeney
Contact: Dan Sweeney

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