The Life and Career of Janis Joplin

Born January 19, 1943, Janis Joplin was an American singer-songwriter who got her breakthrough as lead vocalist of Big Brother and the Holding Company but later made a name for herself as a solo artist. Though she passed away at the young age of 27 on October 4, 1970 from a drug overdose, Joplin still managed to find success in the late 1960's, an era of rock music that was considered mostly male-dominated. She is consistently considered one of the greatest artists of all time. In this video, takes a look at the life and career of singer-songwriter, Janis Joplin, whose music and legacy still inspire people to this day.

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A Young Misfit

Born January 19, 1943 in Port Arthur, Texas, Janis Joplin grew up as a self-described misfit. It was her fellow outcasts who originally introduced her to the music of Leadbelly and Bessie Smith. She credited these African-American blues artists as part of her inspiration to become a singer.

An Interest in Music

Influenced by Beat poets and her female blues idols, Joplin moved to San Francisco in 1963. It was there she met up with future Jefferson Airplane guitarist, Jorma Kaukonen, and the pair recorded several blues standards together. This period also saw an increase in Joplin’s drug and alcohol use. Worried friends convinced the singer to return to her hometown. She finally agreed, and in 1965 Joplin moved back to Port Arthur and made changes to her lifestyle. However, she continued to practice the blues vocals that eventually got her noticed by rock band, Big Brother and the Holding Company.

Big Brother and the Holding Company

Joplin officially joined the psychedelic rockers in June 1966 as their lead singer, beginning to perform live with the band almost immediately. Within a couple of months, the band signed a record deal and began recording. By 1967, the band’s self-titled debut album was ready for release by Columbia Records, just two months after their breakthrough performance at the Monterey Pop Festival. As the band began receiving more media attention, the spotlight was primarily on Joplin and this created tensions within Big Brother.

Cheap Thrills and a Piece of My Heart

The band’s sophomore record, Cheap Thrills, was released in August of 1968. This record gave the band their first number one hit on the Billboard charts, Piece of My Heart. Soon after, Joplin announced she would be leaving the band, and following some fall tour dates she played her last performance with Big Brother and the Holding Company in December of 1968.

Solo Career with the Kozmic Blues Band

As she embarked on her solo career, Joplin formed a backup band called the Kozmic Blues Band that helped underline her funky blues style. The Kozmic Blues album came out in September 1969 to mixed reviews. By this time, Joplin was heavily addicted to heroin. The group did manage to tour Europe and North America for a few months, including a stop at Woodstock in August. Ultimately, however, the band broke up at the end of the year.

Going Solo with The Full Tilt Boogie Band

By May 1970, Joplin was already touring with her new band, The Full Tilt Boogie Band. Fan and critic response was more positive this time around, and Joplin said she felt more attached to this backing band than her previous one. Joplin and Full Tilt joined the Canadian leg of the Festival Express tour later that year, playing next to such acts as The Grateful Dead, The Band and Rick Danko.

The Last Album

By the time she was touring with Full Tilt, Joplin claimed she was no longer using drugs. However it commonly known that her drinking was still a serious problem. Joplins’ last public set with Full Tilt was in Boston on August 12, 1970. The next month, the band began recording for what would ultimately be Joplin’s final album. Pearl was released posthumously in 1971, as a compilation of the songs Joplin was able to finish prior to her death. This album contained the most popular single of her career, “Me and Bobby McGee,” and was also the best-selling album of her career.

An Untimely Death

On Sunday, October 4, 1970, Joplin was schedule to record the vocal track for the song, “Buried Alive in the Blues.” The band’s road manager became concerned when she failed to show up for the session. Joplin was found dead in her room at the Landmark Motor Hotel. Her drug-use had finally caught up with her: the official cause of death was a heroin overdose, which may have been aggravated by alcohol.

Musical Legacy

Despite her short career and untimely death, Joplin’s legacy is still going strong today. By paving the way for female artists in an era of rock that was dominated by men, she indelibly influenced the course of music.

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