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Janis Ian  Track #22  "Joy"

Janis Ian has nine Grammy nominations, more than 20 major label releases, and numerous platinum and gold records throughout the Western world. She likes being a writer.

Who are the great songwriters in America today?

Not the most popular.  Not the richest.  Simply the greats.

Ask any student of the form, and Janis Ian will be counted among them.  The writer of “Jesse,” a song recorded by so many others that few remember Ian wrote it; “Stars,” possibly the best song ever written about the life of a performer, recorded by artists as diverse as Mel Torme and Cher; and the seminal “At Seventeen,” a song that brought her five Grammy nominations (the most any solo female artist had ever garnered) in 1975, and which is now reaching its third generation of listeners.

Ian is a formidable talent, a force of nature. Ella Fitzgerald called her “The best young singer in America.”  Chet Atkins said “Singer? You ought to hear that girl play guitar; she gives me a run for my money!”  Reviewers have called her live performances “overwhelming to the spirit and soul,” and “drenched with such passion, the audience feels they’ve been swept up in a hurricane.”  Not to mention her short stories, her songs for film and television . . . and oh, yes.  She also runs a foundation, named for her mother, that works with various universities and colleges to supply scholarships for returning students; they’ve raised over $300,000 to date.

For the record, Ian was born April 7, 1951, and started playing the piano at two.  Far from being a child prodigy on that instrument, she hated scales and studying, and switched to guitar at age ten.  (“I figured out that while you couldn’t carry a piano, you could carry a guitar, and that was it.”)  Her first song was written at twelve and recorded on her first album for Verve-Folkways in 1965, which also featured her first hit, Society’s Child.   The song ignited controversy from coast to coast, resulting in the burning of a radio station, the firing of disc jockeys who played it, and a generation hungering for the truth finally having a female songwriter to stand beside Bob Dylan.

“It was good to start young,” says Ian.  “It was good to learn, early on, that what matters is the music. I got most of my big mistakes over with before I was twenty-one.  When people say ‘Didn’t you miss having a teenage life?’ I just say ‘I only know the life I lived.  I was a teenager, working. A hundred years ago, no one would have thought anything of it. At least I got to do something I loved! I could have been working in a factory, or a day job where every day is the same thing, day in and day out. Instead, I got to deal with everything from doing coke with Jimi Hendrix to death threats. I lived an entire life in my teen years, and I don’t regret a second of it.”

Janis Ian