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Her voice is as clear as air in the autumn, a vibrant, strong, untrained and thrilling soprano. She wears no makeup and her long black hair hangs like a drapery, parted around her long almond face. In performance she comes on, walks straight to the microphone, and begins to sing. No patter. No show business. She usually wears a sweater and skirt or a simple dress. Occasionally she affects something semi-Oriental that seems to have been hand-sewn out of burlap. The purity of her voice suggests purity of approach. She is only 21 and palpably nubile. But there is little sex in that clear flow of sound. It is haunted and plaintive, a mother's voice, and it has in it distant reminders of black women wailing in the night, of detached madrigal singers performing calmly at court, and of saddened gypsies trying to charm death into leaving their Spanish caves.
Impresarios everywhere are trying to book her. She has rarely appeared in nightclubs and says she doubts that she will ever sing in one again; she wants to be something more than background noise Her LP albums sell so well that she could hugely enrich herself by recording many more, but she has set a limit of one a year. Most of her concerts are given on college campuses.
She sings Child ballads* with an ethereal grace that seems to have been caught and stopped in passage in the air over the 18th century Atlantic. Barbara Allen Child 84) is one of the set pieces of folk singing, and no one sings it as achingly as she does. From Lonesome Road to All My Trials, her most typical selections are so mournful and quietly desperate that her early records would not be out of place at a funeral. More recently she has added some lighter material to create a semblance of variety, but the force of sadness in her personality is so compelling that even the wonderful and instructive lyrics of Copper Kettle somehow manage to portend a doom deeper than a jail sentence:
Build your fire with hickoryHickory and ash and oak.
Don't use no green or rotten wood,
They'll get you by the smoke.
While you lay there by the juniper,
While the moon is bright,
Watch them jugs a-filling
In the pale moonlight.
That song is a fond hymn to the contemplative life of the moonshiner, but Joan Baez delivers it in a manner that suggests that all good lives, respectable or not, are soon to end.
The people who promote her records and concerts are forever saying that "she speaks to her generation." They may be right, since her generation seems to prefer her to all others. If the subtle and emotional content of her attitude is getting through to her contemporaries, she at least has an idea of what she is trying to say to them and why they want to hear it. "When I started singing, I felt as though we had just so long to live, and I still feel that way," she says. "It's looming over your head. The kids who sing feel they really don't have a futureso they pick up a guitar and play. It's a desperate sort of thing, and there's a whole lost bunch of them."
Mobile Start. Joan Baez (she pronounces it By-ezz) was born on Staten Island. Jan. 9. 1941. But both her parents were foreign-born. Her mother was English-Scottish, the daughter of an Episcopal minister and