red tulips | copyright Jill J. Jensen

 

 

Janis Ian

a singer/songwriter from the Sixties still tells it like it is — and plays a mean acoustic guitar

 

In the midst of that amazing decade known as "The Sixties," a tiny fifteen-year-old female singer/songwriter appeared without fanfare on the popular music charts and blew a hole in our prejudices about what lyrics and tunes can do to reflect life.

Janis Ian, a self-described high school misfit, took on the taboo of the time against interracial dating in her song Society's Child and began a long career of social commentary and wonderful music.

By the late 1970s, Ian had released a series of incredible albums — Stars (containing the title song, as well as Jesse, Without You, and Dance With Me), Behind the Lines (with the teen-misfit anthem At Seventeen, in addition to Tea and Sympathy, and When the Party's Over), and albums Aftertones and Miracle Row.

Although her profile wasn't high in the 1980s and 1990s, Ian never gave up music or stopped recording. Her first live album, Janis Ian Live: Working Without a Net, was released in 2003. Early in 2004, she released Billie's Bones. In today's vernacular, she totally rocks — and her website is way kewl!

Ian brought Iowa fans up to date in a stunning 2004 live concert at CSPS, the funky performance center and art gallery near Czech Village in Cedar Rapids. To say she hasn't lost her touch is an understatement. Ian is absolutely golden. Alone on the stage with her tricked-out electric-acoustic guitar and generating spine-tingling tones that filled the house and heart, Ian shared old and new music, stories of her career and move from New York to Nashville in slyly hilarious commentary, proving herself a masterful performer.

On Ian's award-winning website, you'll find a complete discography (yes, she has remained musically active for the last thirty-some years) and interesting tidbits about the songs and albums, such as this inside scoop:

"Society's Child was originally recorded for Atlantic Records, who paid for the session; after they heard it, they quietly returned the master, saying they could not release it. Years later Jerry Wexler (president of Atlantic at the time) apologized publicly to Janis for this, saying 'If any company should have released Society's Child, it was us.' Artie Butler played both organ and Janis' harpsichord intro on this; because it was recorded onto only eight tracks, he had to run back and forth between the two instruments during the session."

Beyond the typical website staples, such as links to the discography, MP3s, merchandise, a message board, tour schedule, and a chat room, you'll find links to Ian's lyrics, information about her musical equipment, a list of "awards & incorrect facts," and the Pearl Foundation, named after her mother.

As Ian told the story to the crowd at CSPS, she took the royalties from one of her chart-topping songs and put her mother through college. When her mother died, Ian decided that establishing the Pearl Foundation, which funds scholarships for returning students, would be a fitting tribute to her mother. It's also a typical meshing of Ian's personal and social activism, great tunes and all.

 

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