Baez initially took the stage alone to perform a rendition of “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” a traditional number that she also performed at Woodstock in 1969. “My voice is my greatest gift,” Baez said during her induction speech, and the solo format allowed her to demonstrate that gift’s extraordinary range.
She played a bare outline of melody on guitar, but the focus was entirely on her singing: she transformed single words like “home” and “chariot” into multi-note, virtuosic displays. She also adjusted the song’s lyrics in the final line – “Coming for to carry me home” – to include President Trump, suggesting that even he was not beyond saving.
— Vulture (@vulture) April 8, 2017
After “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” Baez invited singer/songwriter Mary Chapin Carpenter and the Indigo Girls to join her onstage. Together, the quartet tackled “Deportee (Plane Wreck At Los Gatos),” a protest tune written by Woody Guthrie, and “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” one of the Band’s most popular songs.
“Deportee” was a serene affair, full of dulcet strums and graceful singing from all four artists. Baez picked up the tempo during “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” and enjoyed slipping in front of the beat and waiting for it catch up. A few members of the crowd joined in during the song’s famous, hummable chorus.
Baez initially expressed surprise when she found out about her Rock Hall induction. “I never considered myself to be a rock and roll artist,” she explained in a statement. “But as part of the folk music boom which contributed to and influenced the rock revolution of the Sixties, I am proud that some of the songs I sang made their way into the rock lexicon. I very much appreciate this honor and acknowledgement by the Hall of Fame.”
Early in her career, Baez recorded traditional songs like “House of the Rising Sun,” which later became a major hit for The Animals, and “John Riley,” which subsequently influenced the Byrds’ rendition on 1966’s Fifth Dimension. Baez also performed at Woodstock, one of rock’s seminal events.
Even if her music leans more towards folk, longtime friend Bob Neuwirth suggested that Baez’s spirit makes her a natural candidate for the Rock Hall. “Joan has that rock and roll attitude toward life and freedom and love,” Neuwirth said recently. “She has a kind of bravery that could just kick down the doors.”
Baez’s Hall of Fame induction is the latest acknowledgement of her contributions to popular music. She earned a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Grammys in 2007.
She is currently at work on a new album produced by Joe Henry. “So many people have said to me, out of the blue, ‘We need Joan Baez right now,'” Henry told Rolling Stone. “She’s been fiercely standing where she is her whole life.”