Joan Baez First LP in Library of Congress

Joan Baez 1

, her debut album, has been inducted into the the United States Library of Congress. Each year 25 recordings that are “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” are selected.

When I heard that the album was inducted, I naturally wanted to listen to it but not. Although I owned the original Vanguard album in the 1960’s it had disappeared, the victim of too many moves, too many girlfriends and too many records loaned out.

Not to be deterred, Joan Baez 1 is available as a reissue by Vanguard. It is also available from bootleggers with no guarantee of the sound quality. Vanguard Records was known for their pristine audio and the Joan Baez lives up to the reputation.

The album amazed me. It’s very entertaining. Baez young voice is so pure and warm and she effortlessly sings her early repertoire. From the first song “Silver Dagger” she is so sweetly in command of the songs and her performance. It’s clear why we all fell in love with her from the first listen. I think in retrospect it’s amazing she burst onto the folk scene with such an obvious great talent.

Of this album, the Library of Congress states: “The first solo album by the woman ‘Time’ magazine would soon crown ‘Queen of the Folk Singers,’ ‘Joan Baez’ preserves for posterity powerful performances from the Harvard Square coffeehouse repertoire that brought Baez to prominence as the folk-revival movement was arriving on the national stage. Baez’s haunting arrangements of traditional English and Scottish ballads of longing and regret, mixed with an eclectic blend of Bahamian, Yiddish, Mexican and Carter Family favorite tunes, sent critic Robert Shelton ‘scurrying to the thesaurus for superlatives.’

The album’s opening line, ‘Don’t sing love songs,’ sets the tone for many of the first-person narratives and dialogues Baez selected that valorize authenticity over sentimentality and occasionally hint at the freedom struggles she later would join. Baez chose Vanguard Records over the more commercially oriented Columbia for this debut, and the album’s success was especially important for women in folk music. According to Fred Hellerman, her accompanist on several of the album’s songs, ‘she was tapping something in the air that wasn’t just musical.’ In the words of fellow folksinger Barbara Dane, she and others had finally found someone who was ‘absolutely free and in charge of herself.'”

Barbara Dane's music can be found at and

By Stephen Pate, NJN Network


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