Janis Joplin

(1943 – 1970)

With a powerhouse vocal style and a brash, larger-than-life persona, Blues-steeped singer Janis Joplin arrived in San Francisco from Port Arthur, Texas, a few years before the Summer of Love and rose to become one of the biggest stars of the late 1960s. As a charismatic female star at a time when Rock was heavily male-dominated, Joplin was a trailblazer – however, her career was cut short when she died of a drug overdose in 1970, at the age of 27.

As a teenager growing up in Texas in the late 1950s, Joplin was smitten by old Folk, Jazz, and Blues records by singers like Billie Holiday, Leadbelly, Ma Rainey, and Bessie Smith. She briefly attended college in Austin, Texas, but Joplin, a free spirit and self-described “misfit” who chafed at her conservative surroundings, dropped out and moved to San Francisco in early 1963. She began playing in coffeehouses and fell in with guitarist Jorma Kaukonen (later of the Jefferson Airplane), with whom she did some recording. She also began experimenting with drugs, and while she was developing a reputation as a commanding singer, by 1965 the effects of her drug use were bad enough that at the urging of friends she returned home to Texas.

Back home, Joplin made an effort to straighten out her lifestyle, returning to college and getting engaged. But then she got an invitation to join the popular San Francisco band Big Brother and the Holding Company, and soon she was back on the West Coast, fronting the group.  Joplin soulful, Bluesy style was an effective complement to the Acid Rock of Big Brother, and the uninhibited Joplin began to develop a reputation as one of the most commanding performers in Rock. She stayed with Big Brother for a year and a half, playing a well-received set at the Monterey Pop Festival and recording two albums for Columbia — the second of which, 1968’s Cheap Thrills, reached No. 1 on the album chart and produced the 1968 hit single "Piece of My Heart."

As Joplin’s star rose, it created tension within the band, and she soon stepped out on her own. In 1969, she released her first solo album, I Got Dem Ol' Kozmic Blues Again Mama, and played at the seminal Woodstock festival. In October 1970 Joplin was recording her second solo album in Los Angeles when she was found dead of a heroin overdose in her hotel. The posthumously released Pearl became the biggest album of her career, selling 4 million copies, with the single “Me and Bobby McGee” reaching No. 1.