Jackson Browne inducted folk legend Joan Baez at the 2017 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ceremony at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center Friday night. Bruce Springsteen inducted Browne into the Hall of Fame in 2004 and in 2013, Browne appeared at the ceremony to help honor inductee Randy Newman.
Browne and Baez have crossed paths multiple times over the years, with Baez having covered and interpreted songs by Browne on her own albums. Last year, the folk legends performed on stage for Baez’s 75th birthday celebration at New York’s Beacon Theater, singing “Before the Deluge” and Woody Guthrie’s “Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos)” together.
The songwriter gave a deeply personal speech about Baez, tracing her involvement in his own musical upbringing and greater contribution to social causes. Read the full speech below.
The changes that began happening in the Sixties – the civil rights movement, opposition to the Vietnam war, the sexual revolution, the spiritual exploration and consciousness expansion…. Women’s Liberation….. None of that can be separated from the folk music that was being rediscovered and brought to the forefront of popular culture.
On college campuses, in coffee houses, and at folk festivals, a new generation was discovering the true history of this country through the music of the people who built it. And we weren’t just listening to it. We were learning to sing and play these songs that contained the hardship, and the struggles and the hopes of people who had come to this country as immigrants. And as slaves. Folk musicians began traveling to parts of the country where people still made this music, and they began finding out who was actually here. And that was something you couldn’t find out in those days by watching TV or going to the movies.
Of all the many great artists who were singing and recording this music, and who embodied the search for what was real, historic, and eternal – the one who suddenly emerged and came to national prominence – was Joan Baez.
From the moment she appeared in the Cambridge folk scene, she had a spellbinding effect on her audiences. In 1960, at the age of 19, she released her first album, and then a second album, and then a live album. And then she was on the cover of Time Magazine, as the face and the voice of the new folk movement.
The first record I ever bought with my own money, was Joan Baez’s second album. I was 14. I went down to our little record store there in Fullerton – out in Orange County – where I had just moved with my family from L.A., and they had a listening booth, where you could play records before buying them. I saw this album with her picture on it, and she looked like the girls I had grown up with in Highland Park, my old neighborhood in L.A. 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. I took the record home and started learning to play that third song, “The Lily Of The West.”
The purity of her voice was intoxicating – her enormous dynamics, and the command she had as a singer – mixed with the drama and the mystery of those old songs – led me into the world of folk and blues, and the voice-and-guitar driven narratives that have been at the center of my musical quest my whole life.
Almost immediately she introduced her audience to the songs of Bob Dylan.
Joan Baez gave Bob Dylan a national audience. When she began singing his songs, those who had been time traveling through folk music and discovering all the human drama, and the eternal truths of our shared history, were suddenly in the present! With God On Our Side.
“With God On Our Side” – this Dylan song, which summarized and examined the history of US wars and the supposed rational for each of them, was one of the two songs Joan and Bob sang on her concert tour in 1963, catapulting the broadside – or what is now known as the protest song – into the consciousness of a whole generation.
Her second live album, released that year, contained her rather shy – almost casual -invitation to join her in singing “We Shall Overcome.”
of these songs had a galvanizing effect on me and my friends. We joined CORE – the
Congress of Racial Equality. We joined hands and sang, we demonstrated. We
started writing songs. And we were doing this out in Orange County, the bastion
of the ultra-conservative John Birch Society. But It was happening all across
America. And when I saw that Joan Baez was marching with Martin Luther King, I
felt that I was represented there. And that they were marching for all of us.
And that they were marching for – to paraphrase Langston Hughes – “the America that has never been yet, and yet must be.”
There is no way to quantify how much Joan Baez means to the people of my generation who grew up listening to her voice, leading us in singing We Shall Overcome. When I hear the recording now – I feel a deep sadness that the song is as needed now as it was then. Now even more.
The changes that began happening in the Sixties are still happening. And the injustice we opposed then we must still oppose. And we need to be empowered now as much as we ever have needed to be empowered.
To track Joan Baez’s involvement in human rights and social justice is to chart the evolution of our own moral awakening, and of our own growing planetary consciousness. Her example has been, from the beginning, empowering for women. And for men, also. Of course, the women are smarter, and it has taken men a little longer to realize that we were being empowered too.
But that’s right. Joan Baez empowered me to sing and play guitar when I was a kid, not that much younger than her, and to find my voice, and to eventually try to use it to make the changes I need to see in the world.
So – it is my honor and my pleasure – and a recognition long, long overdue – To welcome Joan Baez to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.