Janis Joplin

Janis on her car

Janis Lyn Joplin
Born: Jan. 19, 1943 in Port Arthur, Texas

Died: Oct. 4, 1970

Janis Joplin is one of the most iconic, enduring, influential musicians in the history of rock n’ roll.  She has been called “The Queen of Rock” and “The Queen of Psychedelic Soul”.

Janis had a difficult time growing up in Port Arthur.  She enjoyed art, and was mocked by her classmates at Thomas Jefferson High School, who considered her ugly and strange.  As a teenager, she found solace listening to blues artists Bessie Smith, Big Mama Thornton, and Lead Belly.  This interest further alienated her from her conservative, white, middle-class peers.  In 1966, Joplin’s vocals attracted the attention of Chet Helms, who convinced her to join Big Brother and the Holding Company.  The band appeared at the Monterey Pop Festival, making their television debut on The Dick Cavett Show in 1968. Vogue magazine called Janis “the most staggering leading woman in rock”.

Big Brother’s second album, “Cheap Thrills” included the hits “Piece of My Heart” and “Summertime”.  No. 1 on the Billboard 200, it sold over a million copies in the first month.  Despite this success, Janis was unhappy with Big Brother, and formed the Kozmic Blues Band.

Pete Townshend of the Who recalled her performance at Woodstock (1969), where Janis took the stage at 2:00 am: “She wasn’t at her best, due to the amount of booze and heroin she’d consumed. But even Janis on an off-night was incredible.”

According to her younger sister, Laura, Janis told her parents how much she loved Woodstock, but they did not understand the hippie movement.  Her mother felt Janis had a constant need for attention, and she did not approve of her daughter’s lifestyle.

When Kosmic Blues did not live up to Joplin’s expectations, she created the Full Tilt Boogie Band in 1970. On the Dick Cavett Show again in 1970, Janis announced that she would attend her ten-year high-school reunion, despite the fact that former classmates had “laughed me out of class, out of town, and out of the state.”  The reunion proved to be an unhappy experience.  Janis had criticized her hometown on national television, and everyone knew it.  She received press, but not the acceptance she craved.

On October 4, 1970, producer Paul Rothchild went to look for Janis when she missed a recording session and discovered she had died from a heroin overdose.  Three days earlier, she recorded her last song, “Mercedes Benz”.

Joplin’s will funded $2,500 for a party to be thrown in her honor.  According to her wishes, she was cremated and her ashes scattered over the ocean.  Her second solo album “Pearl”, released posthumously in 1971, peaked at No.1 on the Billboard 200 and was certified quadruple platinum.

Janis was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995, and given a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005.  She was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2013.  Rolling Stone ranked Joplin number 46 on its list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time, and number 28 on its list of the 100 Greatest Singers.

Joplin’s psychedelic 1965 Porsche 356 Cabriolet, formerly displayed at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, was auctioned off by Sotheby’s in 2016. It sold for $1.76 million.  A replica of this car can be seen at the Museum of the Gulf Coast.

Content courtesy of the Museum of the Gulf Coast