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The Kids' Corner

Let's Talk About:
Women's History

Social outcast succeeded by singing her heart out

Each of us is unique: Yet certain individuals stand out as "different" from others in their social group. Janis Lyn Joplin was one of these people. A social outcast in high school because of her flamboyant nature, her weight, acne, insecurities, and disinterest in hairdos, makeup, and fashion, Joplin endured more cruelty in college, when a fraternity named her the "Ugliest Man On Campus." She took comfort in her love of blues, country, and rock music, and unfortunately, in her drinking.

Born in January 1943 in Port Arthur, Texas, a small, Gulf of Mexico town settled by her great-great-great-great-grandparents, the restless teen-aged Joplin poured her heart’s pain into her music. Joplin sang with wild abandon and emotion, contorting her face and body as she alternated between throaty screams, mournful wails and croonings of a song’s lyrics.

Joplin hitchhiked to San Francisco when she was 20, and she was captured by the Haight-Ashbury drug culture. After two years, Joplin returned home. Then Chet Holms, manager of the Avalon Ballroom, invited Joplin back to San Francisco to audition for female vocalist for the Big Brother & the Holding Company band.

When Joplin was 23, she made her public debut with the band in nearby Berkeley’s open-air theater. Their fast-rising popularity led to a recording contract. After two albums, Joplin quit Big Brother in the fall of 1968.

Joplin formed her own group, the Kozmic Blues Band. She struggled to get straight and sober, and fell enough in love to consider marriage. She disbanded the Kozmic Blues Band to form the Full-Tilt Boogie Band, but as she was recording that band’s second album, Joplin fell victim for a final time to alcohol and drugs. She died of an overdose on Oct. 4, 1970.

— By Emily L. Bell

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