Janis Joplin. Born on January 19, 1943, in Port Arthur, Texas. Breaking new ground for women in rock music, Janis Joplin rose to fame in the late 1960s and was known for her powerful, blues-inspired vocals. She grew up in a small Texas town known for its connections to the oil industry with a skyline dotted with oil tanks and oil refineries. For years, Joplin struggled to escape from this confining community and spent even longer to trying to overcome her memories of her difficult years there.
Developing a love for music at an early age, Joplin sang in her church choir as a child and showed some promise as a performer. She was an only child until the age of 6 when her sister Laura was born. Four years later, her brother Michael arrived. Joplin was a good student and fairly popular until around the age of 14 when some side effects of puberty started to kick in. She got acne and gained some weight.
At Thomas Jefferson High School, Joplin started to rebel. She eschewed the popular girls’ fashions of the late 1950s, often choosing to wear men’s shirts and tights or short skirts. While she liked to stand out from the crowd, Joplin also found herself the target of some teasing and a popular subject in the school’s rumor mill. She was called a “pig” by some while others said that she was sexually promiscuous.
Joplin eventually developed a group of guy friends who shared her interest in music and the Beat Generation, which rejected the standard norms and emphasized creative expression. Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg were two of the leading figures in the movement.
Musically, Joplin and her friends gravitated toward blues and jazz music, admiring such artists as Leadbelly. She also was inspired by legendary blues vocalists Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey and Odetta, an early leading figure in the folk music movement. The group also frequented local working-class bars in the nearby Louisiana of Vinton. By her senior year of high school, Joplin had developed a persona of sorts — a ballsy, tough-talking girl who like to drink and be outrageous.
After graduating high school, Joplin enrolled at Lamar State College of Technology in the neighboring town of Beaumont. There she spent more time hanging out and drinking than on her studies. At the end of the semester, Joplin left school. She took some secretarial courses at Port Arthur College and moved to Los Angeles in the summer of 1961. This first effort to break away from home failed, and she returned to Port Arthur and her studies at Lamar for a time.
In 1962, Joplin left again to study at the University of Texas at Austin. There she started performing at folksings — casual musical gatherings where anyone can perform — on campus and at a local club with the Waller Creek Boys, a musical trio she was friends with. With her forceful, gutsy singing style, Joplin amazed many audience members. She was unlike any other white female vocalist at the time — folk icons Joan Baez and Judy Collins were known for their gentle sound. ~
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