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Joan Baez Reveals ‘Surprise Dimension’ of New ‘Civil War’ Video

Relations, experiences of black Civil War soldiers inform visual for ‘Whistle Down the Wind’ track

Joan Baez unveiled a powerful new video for “Civil War,” a song off her latest album, Whistle Down the Wind.

New York University professor Deborah Willis directed the video, which features dancers Djassi Johnson and Kevin Bozeman in 19th century garb. A mix of contemporary photographs and historical portraits of black Civil War soldiers and slaves are projected onto the screen and their bodies as they move to the folk song.  

“Civil War” was written by Baez’s producer and collaborator, Joe Henry. While it isn’t specifically about the war between the United States and the Confederacy, Willis told Smithsonian.com that the song resonated with her research about black Civil War soldiers. 

“I wanted to frame that concept of history,” Willis said. “And also think about man-woman relationships … I wanted to think about how photographs reflect and reimagine history. I see [the video] as expanding the ideas about the term ‘civil war.'”

Baez added, “The video adds a surprise dimension to Joe Henry’s song, ‘Civil War.’ Executed with grace and beauty, it turns a corner even Joe could not have anticipated.”

The video for “Civil War” marks the second in an ongoing series to release visuals for all 10 Whistle Down the Wind tracks. Last month, filmmaker and painter Jeff Scher released an animated visual for “The President Sang Amazing Grace,” commemorating the victims of the Charleston church shooting and Barack Obama’s tearful eulogy at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.

Baez released Whistle Down the Wind, which is expected to be her final album, last month. This fall she’ll embark on her final tour, with a North American leg set to launch September 11th in Ithaca, New York and wrap November 17th in Oakland, California.

In This Article: Joan Baez

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