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. Thank you to the Hall of Fame for this somewhat unlikely induction. Especially thanks 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 to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, would have no clue who I am. [Laughter] My granddaughter had no clue who I was. [Laughter] Until I took her backstage at the Taylor Swift concert where she got a selfie, an autograph, a T-shirt and newfound respect for her grandmother.
While one cannot say I’m 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 roll that 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, made 15 dollars a night, all as I gleefully flunked out of college.
I owe my beginnings to the friends and folk artists whom I picked up the chords, the melodies, the finger pickings and the 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 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 final.
Once a friend said to me when I was recognized at a post by a fan on the street, “Oh, come on. Admit it. You like this.” And I said, “There was nothing to admit. It was a fact.” My public is a kind of family. I’m beholden to those rock & rollers who are long gone, and to 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 was filled with classical, country and western, rhythm and blues and a hit parade. When I was 16, my aunt took me to see a Pete Seeger concert. And my mom brought me 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 ushering a shameful period in this country. My family was 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’s 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 and practitioner of nonviolence, both in my personal life and as a way of fighting for social change. [Applause.] Thank you. It has given my life deep meaning and unending pleasure, has been to use my voice in the battle of injustice. It has brought me in touch with people of every background. With open, generous, hardworking, fun-loving 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 their generosity of their time and resources to benefit the less fortunate and light the way for others to do the same. [Applause]
And I’ve met and tried to walk in the shoes of those who are hungry, thirsty, cold and passed out. People imprisoned for their beliefs and others who have broken the law, paid the price and now live in hopelessness and despair. I’ve exonerated prisoners who have spent decades in solitary confinement, awaiting execution. Of exhausted refugees, and immigrants. Those who have fought for this country, sacrificed and now live in the shadows of rejection. [Applause]
People of color, the old, the ill, the physically challenged, the LGBTQ community. And now, in the new political, cultural reality in which we find ourselves, there’s much work to be done. Where empathy is failing and sharing has become usurped by greed and lust for power, let us double, triple and quadruple our own efforts to empathize and to give our resources and ourselves.
Let us together repeal and replace brutality and make them passionate priorities. Together, let us build a bridge, 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 ones who can create change. I’m 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, every genre, the fight for a better world, one brave step at a time becomes not just bearable, but possible and beautiful. Thank you.