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Janis Ian began her mostly stellar, sometimes stormy, professional life at the ripe old age of 12 when she wrote her first song and was published by Broadside Magazine.That led to her first “real” show, at New York’s venerable Village Gate, where she shared a stage with Tom Paxton, Lou Gossett Jr., Judy Collins, Phil Ochs, and a host of other singer-songwriters.
At 14, she wrote “Society’s Child,” which is also the name of her self-penned autobiography (Tarcher/Penguin), also available as an audio book (Audible.com) which has earned her a ninth Grammy nomination each in a different category – this as Best Spoken Word Album (2012) with laudable competition including President Bill Clinton, First Lady Michelle Obama, Rachel Maddow and Ellen DeGeneres. The audio book was produced by Grammy Award winner Stefan Rudnicki, producer of over 1,000 audio books, who has also been honored with Grammy nominations, Audie Awards and AudioFile Earphones Awards. Like most everything she does, “We did the entire thing live, including the singing and playing. No edits, no overdubs, no recording studio.”
Kathy Mattea describes the book this way, “After finishing `Society’s Child’, I feel like I’ve had a front row seat to the soundtrack of my life.”
From Janis’ first headlining show at Greenwich Village’s Gaslight Café at age 15, her life was fraught with challenges. Most adults could not have survived the scorn and controversy that surrounded what was to become her debut single and first hit.
“Society’s Child” focused on an interracial couple in an era when tempers flared at even such a mention. The intimidating boos she received on-stage from racists shied in comparison to the hate mail and death threats she was subjected to. She has continued to hold her head high despite criticism, family problems, near fatal health issues, failed relationships with both men and women including an abusive and broken marriage, and devastating financial crises. She says of her early career, “”I wrote my first song at 12. Was published at 13. Made a record at 14, had a hit at 15, and was a has-been at 16. So ‘At 17′ means more to me than you can know.”
“At Seventeen” became her trademark song and, along with the album on which it debuted, “Between the Lines,” it earned five Grammy nominations and two wins including Best Pop Female Performance and Best Engineered Recording. The song has since joined “Society’s Child” as inductees in the Grammy Hall of Fame.
Health problems, a broken marriage and numerous other challenges followed causing her to re-think her life. After a nine year hiatus when she studied theatre with legendary Stella Adler, she returned to music with “Breaking Silence” and received her eighth Grammy nomination (1993).
Writing prose came early as well. Her article The Internet Debacle: An Alternative View(available on her website) has been posted on over 1,000 websites, quoted in USA Today, translated into eleven languages, used as evidence in the Napster and Grokster cases, and featured by BBC-TV. The first book for which she wrote, “The Stars Anthology” or “Stars: Original Stories Based on the Songs of Janis Ian” received praise.
30 science fiction writers used her songs as a backdrop for their imaginations. Awards were numerous, including recognition of a story she wrote specifically for the anthology, “Second Person Unmasked.” Now, with the success of her autobiography, she is expanding her literary horizons with a children’s book based on Ian’s song “The Tiny Mouse” (Lemnisca at Publishing) due in Fall 2013. The book, which will be illustrated by the Schuberts, will include a CD of the song so children can sing along.
Music and lyrics are about life experiences and, as Janis’ life has been full and colorful, so have her songs as evidenced by her multiple awards, Grammy and Dove Award nominations and commendations. Her songs have been recorded by singers as diverse as Cher, John Mellencamp, Celine Dion, Hugh Masakela, Nana Mouskouri, CharlieDaniels and Roberta Flack.
Always one to follow her heart and her beliefs, Janis was one of the first celebrities to come out publicly. She and her partner of 23 years were married in Canada in 2003, the only place where gay marriage was legal at the time. Her roller coaster ride has taken her to Nashville, her home this past quarter-century, where she thrives with new product on her own Rude Girl Records label, ongoing touring, and perpetual and prolific songwriting.
Some of the landmarks of her career include:
- In 1976 she received 5 Grammy nominations for the album Between the Lines and the single “At Seventeen” which has become a classic that is still revered today. She was one of only five solo female artists to receive that many nominations in one year. The others were Ella Fitzgerald, Barbra Streisand, Aretha Franklin and Olivia Newton-John
- She performed on the very first broadcast of “Saturday Night Live”
- Janis topped the charts in Japan at #1 for a full year, and became a multi-platinum artist there as well as in numerous other foreign territories
- Her first Grammy nomination came in 1967, for “Best Folk Album.” In addition to the nominations for Between the Lines, she was also nominated for “Best Jazz Duet” after she and Mel Torme recorded her song “Silly Habits”. She also won a Grammy for her work on In Harmony II, a Sesame Street album.
- After a nine year hiatus when she studied with legendary Stella Adler, she returned to music with “Breaking Silence” and received her ninth Grammy nomination (1993).
- Both “Society’s Child” and “At Seventeen” have been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame
- She formed the Pearl Foundation, named after her mother, which has given over $560,000 in scholarships to date
- She has been nominated or won awards in multiple musical genres: folk, pop, jazz, children’s. Hopefully Best Spoken Word Album will be added to the list of Grammy nods with the release of this audio book.
- “The Stars Anthology” or “Stars: Original Stories Based on the Songs of Janis Ian” received praise. 30 science fiction writers used her songs as a backdrop for their imaginations. Awards were numerous, including recognition of a story she wrote specifically for the anthology, “Second Person Unmasked.”
- Music and lyrics are about life experiences and, as Janis’ life has been full and colorful, so have her songs as evidenced by her multiple awards, nominations and commendations. Kathy Mattea says it best, “After finishing `Society’s Child’, I feel like I’ve had a front row seat to the soundtrack of my life.”
- She was the first person asked to score The Graduate, but turned it down on the advice of her then-agent, David Geffen.
- After the great Johnny Cash died, Janis learned he had kept a well-thumbed copy of her first book of poetry, Who Really Cares, in his library.
- She has eaten fish-eye soup in Japan, as well as live-fish-soup, sauteed crickets, and braided nettles in order to be polite while being feted. Andrew Zimmern, eat your heart out!
- She sang the first Budweiser Light and Egg McMuffin commercials.
- She is one of Chet Atkins’ favorite guitarists.
- Her article The Internet Debacle: An Alternative View (available on her website) has been posted on over 1,000 websites, quoted in USA Today, translated into eleven languages, used as evidence in the Napster and Grokster cases, and featured by BBC-TV.
- In addition to her Grammys, she was also nominated for a Dove Award.
- Her appearance on the Howard Stern radio show garnered his highest ratings to date.
- Her songs have been recorded by singers as diverse as Cher, John Mellencamp, Celine Dion, Hugh Masakela, Nana Mouskouri, Charlie Daniels and Roberta Flack.
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