After a nearly 60-year career, Joan Baez has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The Queen of Folk was presented the honor by her friend and collaborator Jackson Browne during Friday night’s ceremony at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center.
The activist and singer-songwriter became an internationally known voice of the counter-culture during the early Sixties. Her original songs like “Diamonds & Rust” have become classics as well as her interpretations of material penned by peers like Browne, Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan.
The legendary artist used her time to deliver a passionate speech pleading for social justice. Read her acceptance speech below.
It gives me enormous pleasure to accept this prestigious, and very cool award tonight. Thanks to the Hall of Fame for this somewhat unlikely induction. A special thank you to my manager, Mark Spector, for having kept my career visible, viable, and vibrant.
I’m aware that I’m speaking to many young people, who, without this induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame would have no clue who I am. [Laughter] 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 a newfound respect for her grandmother.
Though one can not say I am a rock & roll artist, one cannot overlook the folk music of the Sixties and the immense effect it had on popular music, including rock & roll. Nor can anyone overlook the role I played in that phenomenon. I was lucky enough to have found my voice when coffee shops were the order of the day. My first job in music was on Tuesday nights at Club 47 in Harvard Square where I sang three sets and made fifteen dollars a night, all as I gleefully flunked out of college. I owe my beginnings to the friends and folk artists from whom I picked up the chords, the melodies, the finger picking and a budding repertoire.
Again, at the right place and time, I knew and was friends with most of the rock & roll idols of the Sixties and Seventies. Some of those friendships I treasure to this day. Most of us in the community of both folk and rock music share with each other the similarities and the differences of how we got to where we are today. We also share the awareness of the blessed and the bizarre, which accompanies us in our everyday lives, lives which are seldom really private. Once a friend said to me when I was recognized and approached by a fan on the street, “Oh come on, admit it. You really like that.” I told her there was nothing to admit. It was a fact. My public is a kind of family.
I am beholden to those rock and rollers who are long gone, and those who live on who have enriched and brightened my life, from vinyl to digital and everything in between – and back to vinyl. [Laughter]
My childhood and teen years were filled with classical, country and western, rhythm and blues, and the Hit Parade. When I was 16 my aunt took me to a Pete Seeger concert. And my mom brought home a Harry Belafonte album. Though Pete was not in any way gorgeous like Harry, he was already committed to making social change. He paid a high price for holding fast to his principles. I learned the meaning of “taking a risk” from Pete. The Cold War was getting a foothold and ushered in a shameful period in this country.
My family was by then Quaker, and socially and politically active. Pete’s influence on me took like a good vaccine, and I turned my attention to folk music and political activism.
My voice is my greatest gift. I can speak freely about the uniqueness of it precisely because it is just that: a gift.
The second greatest gift was the desire to use it the way I have since I was 16 and became a student of and practitioner of nonviolence, both in my personal life and as a way of fighting for social change. What has given my life deep meaning, and unending pleasure, has been to use my voice in the battle against injustice. It has brought me in touch with my own purpose. It has also brought me in touch with people of every background. With open, generous, fun loving, hardworking people, here in this country and around the world. It has brought me in touch with the wealthy, the ones who are stuck in selfishness, and the ones who give generously of their time and resources to benefit the less fortunate, and light the way for others to do the same.
And I’ve met and tried to walk in the shoes of those who are hungry, thirsty, cold and cast out, people imprisoned for their beliefs, and others who have broken the law, paid the price, and now live in hopelessness and despair. Of exonerated prisoners who have spent decades in solitary confinement, awaiting execution. Of exhausted refugees, immigrants, the excluded and the bullied. Those who have fought for this country, sacrificed, and now live in the shadows of rejection. People of color, the old, the ill, the physically challenged, the LGBTQ community.
And now, in the new political and cultural reality in which we find ourselves, there is much work to be done.
Where empathy is failing and sharing has been usurped by greed and the lust for power, let us double, triple, and quadruple our own efforts to empathize and to give of our resources and our selves. Let us together repeal and replace brutality, and make compassion a priority. Together let us build a great bridge, a beautiful bridge to once again welcome the tired and the poor, and we will pay for that bridge with our commitment. We the people must speak truth to power, and be ready to make sacrifices. We the people are the only one who can create change. I am ready. I hope you are, too. I want my granddaughter to know that I fought against an evil tide, and had the masses by my side.
When all of these things are accompanied by music, music of every genre, the fight for a better world, one brave step at a time, becomes not just bearable, but possible, and beautiful.
Thank you again.