Janis Joplin

Janis Joplin on the cover of her posthumously-released live album In Concert

Janis Lyn Joplin (January 19, 1943 - October 4, 1970) was an American blues-influenced rock, R&B, and soul singer and occasional songwriter with a distinctive voice. Joplin released four albums as the frontwoman for several bands from 1967 to a posthumous release in 1971.

Joplin was born in Port Arthur, Texas. She grew up listening to blues musicians such as Bessie Smith and Big Mama Thornton and singing in the local choir. Joplin graduated from Jefferson High School in Port Arthur in 1960 and went to college at the University of Texas in Austin, though she never completed a degree. There, she began singing blues and folk music with friends.

Cultivating a rebellious manner that could be viewed as "liberated", Joplin styled herself after the beat poets, left Texas for San Francisco in 1963, lived in North Beach, and worked occasionally as a folk singer. Around this time her drug use began to increase, and she acquired a reputation as a "speed freak" and occasional heroin user. She also used other intoxicants. She was a heavy drinker throughout her career, and her trademark beverage was Southern Comfort.

After a return to Port Arthur to recuperate, she again moved to San Francisco in 1966, where her bluesy vocal style saw her join Big Brother and The Holding Company, a band that was gaining some renown among the nascent hippie community in Haight-Ashbury. The band signed a deal with independent Mainstream Records and recorded an eponymously titled album in 1967. However, the lack of success of their early singles led to the album being withheld until after their subsequent success.

The band's big break came at the Monterey Pop Festival, which included a version of Big Mama Thornton's Ball and Chain and featured a barnstorming vocal by Joplin. (The D.A. Pennebaker documentary Monterey Pop captured Cass Elliott in the crowd silently mouthing "Wow" during part of Joplin's performance.) Their 1968 album Cheap Thrills featured more raw emotional performances and made Joplin's name.

Splitting from Big Brother, she formed a backup group, named the Kozmic Blues Band, which backed her on I Got Dem Ol' Kozmic Blues Again Mama! 1969 (year she played at Woodstock). That group broke up, and Joplin then formed the Full Tilt Boogie Band. The result was the posthumously released Pearl (1971), which featured a hit single in the form of Kris Kristofferson's Me and Bobby McGee and the wry social commentary of Mercedes-Benz, written by beat poet Michael McClure.

Her last public appearance was on The Dick Cavett Show in 1970, where she said that she was going to attend her 10-year high school reunion, although she had formerly said when in high school there she was "laughed out of class, out of school, out of town". She made it there, but it would be one if the last decisions of her life.

Shortly thereafter, Joplin died of an overdose of unusually pure heroin on October 4, 1970 in a Los Angeles, California motel room, at the age of 27. She was cremated in the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Westwood, California, and her ashes were scattered into the Pacific Ocean. The album Pearl was released six weeks after her death. The movie The Rose, with Bette Midler in the lead role, was loosely based on Joplin's life.

She is now remembered best for her powerful, distinctive voice, which was significantly divergent from the soft folk-influenced styles more common at the time, as well as for her lyrical themes of pain and loss.

Samples

  • Download sample of "Try (Just a Little Bit Harder)" from I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again Mama!

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She is now remembered best for her powerful, distinctive voice, which was significantly divergent from the soft folk-influenced styles more common at the time, as well as for her lyrical themes of pain and loss. In 1992, Patti received her first Grammy award for her album "Burnin." She also is the author of three books, one including her autobiography and two cookbooks. 1998's "Live: One Night Only" earned Patti her second Grammy award. The movie The Rose, with Bette Midler in the lead role, was loosely based on Joplin's life. In 1986, her album "The Winner In You" went platinum. The album Pearl was released six weeks after her death. She made her way to the top of the charts with the hits "New Attitude" which was featured on the soundtrack to Beverly Hills Cop, the love ballad "If Only You Knew" and a duet with Michael McDonald "On My Own". She was cremated in the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Westwood, California, and her ashes were scattered into the Pacific Ocean. During the 1980s and 1990s, Patti LaBelle proved herself to be a legend in the making.

Shortly thereafter, Joplin died of an overdose of unusually pure heroin on October 4, 1970 in a Los Angeles, California motel room, at the age of 27. When the group split up in 1976, Hendryx and LaBelle managed successful solo careers, while Sarah Dash released several failed albums and ending up working as a backup singer for bands like the Rolling Stones. She made it there, but it would be one if the last decisions of her life. LaBelle never regained their former momentum after Nightbirds and "Lady Marmalade", in spite of several hits and some critically acclaimed albums like Phoenix (1975) and Chameleon (1976). Her last public appearance was on The Dick Cavett Show in 1970, where she said that she was going to attend her 10-year high school reunion, although she had formerly said when in high school there she was "laughed out of class, out of school, out of town". The success of the single also pushed the album to the top of the charts. The result was the posthumously released Pearl (1971), which featured a hit single in the form of Kris Kristofferson's Me and Bobby McGee and the wry social commentary of Mercedes-Benz, written by beat poet Michael McClure. "Lady Marmalade", a sexy, funky disco song (with an come-hither French chorus, "Voulez-vous coucher avec moi?") about a New Orleans prostitute became a massive hit in 1975 and one of the first mainstream disco hits (Jones and Kantonen, 1999).

That group broke up, and Joplin then formed the Full Tilt Boogie Band. After Pressure Cooker, LaBelle signed with Epic Records and recorded an album, Nightbirds, with Allen Toussaint, a famous record producer. Splitting from Big Brother, she formed a backup group, named the Kozmic Blues Band, which backed her on I Got Dem Ol' Kozmic Blues Again Mama! 1969 (year she played at Woodstock). After the albums flopped, Hendryx wrote most of their third album, Pressure Cooking (1973), released on RCA Records. (The D.A. Pennebaker documentary Monterey Pop captured Cass Elliott in the crowd silently mouthing "Wow" during part of Joplin's performance.) Their 1968 album Cheap Thrills featured more raw emotional performances and made Joplin's name. LaBelle released LaBelle in 1971 on Warner Brothers Records; it included covers of the Rolling Stones, Kenny Rogers, Carole King and Laura Nyro, while the following album, Moonshadow (1972) included covers of Cat Stevens and the Who, as well as an increasing amount of Hendryx material. The band's big break came at the Monterey Pop Festival, which included a version of Big Mama Thornton's Ball and Chain and featured a barnstorming vocal by Joplin. LaBelle opened for the Who and assisted with Laura Nyro's Gonna Take a Miracle in 1971.

However, the lack of success of their early singles led to the album being withheld until after their subsequent success. She changed the name to LaBelle and pushed the group to a more contemporary sound, incorporated glam influences, particularly in the spectacular spacey stage costumes that included large amounts of glitter, feathers and other acoutrements. The band signed a deal with independent Mainstream Records and recorded an eponymously titled album in 1967. Three years later, the group lost their contract and hired Vicki Wickham, a British TV producer, to remake their image. After a return to Port Arthur to recuperate, she again moved to San Francisco in 1966, where her bluesy vocal style saw her join Big Brother and The Holding Company, a band that was gaining some renown among the nascent hippie community in Haight-Ashbury. In 1967, the group became a trio after Cindy Birdsong left to join the Supremes, replacing Florence Ballard. She was a heavy drinker throughout her career, and her trademark beverage was Southern Comfort. The BlueBelles signed with Atlantic Records in 1965, releasing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" and "Groovy Kind of Love" (later a hit for the Mindbenders and Phil Collins) with only mild success.

She also used other intoxicants. The song was a hit, as was their 1963 follow-up, "Down the Aisle", and "You'll Never Walk Alone" (1964; Rodgers & Hammerstein) and "Danny Boy" (a traditional Irish folk song). Around this time her drug use began to increase, and she acquired a reputation as a "speed freak" and occasional heroin user. Some controversy exists over if the group actually performed on the track; some believe that the song was performed entirely or partially by the Starlets. Cultivating a rebellious manner that could be viewed as "liberated", Joplin styled herself after the beat poets, left Texas for San Francisco in 1963, lived in North Beach, and worked occasionally as a folk singer. The first single was "I Sold My Heart to the Junkman" (released as the Blue-Belles). There, she began singing blues and folk music with friends. Patricia Holt then changed her name to Patricia LaBelle to match the group's official name, the BlueBelles.

Joplin graduated from Jefferson High School in Port Arthur in 1960 and went to college at the University of Texas in Austin, though she never completed a degree. In 1962, Nona Hendryx and Sarah Dash joined after leaving a group called the Del Capris. She grew up listening to blues musicians such as Bessie Smith and Big Mama Thornton and singing in the local choir. Patricia Louise Holt (soon to be known as Patti LaBelle) and Cindy Birdsong first formed a group called the Ordettes in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Joplin was born in Port Arthur, Texas. Nona Hendryx, Sarah Dash and Cindy Birdsong rounded out the group, with Hendryx especially notable as a prolific songwriter. Joplin released four albums as the frontwoman for several bands from 1967 to a posthumous release in 1971. The group was led by Patti LaBelle (born May 24, 1944), who later had a successful solo career.

Janis Lyn Joplin (January 19, 1943 - October 4, 1970) was an American blues-influenced rock, R&B, and soul singer and occasional songwriter with a distinctive voice. LaBelle was an American disco group, melding dance music with funk and glam rock, resulting in such memorable songs as "Lady Marmalade". Download sample of "Try (Just a Little Bit Harder)" from I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again Mama!. ISBN 1556524110. Chicago, Illinois: A Cappella Books. Jones, Alan and Kantonen, Jussi (1999) Saturday Night Forever: The Story of Disco.

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