Janis Ian





The child of a music teacher, Janis Eddy Fink was born on May 7th, 1951 in New York City. She studied piano as a child, and wrote her first songs at the age of 12. She entered Manhattan's High School of Music and Art, where she began performing at school functions. Changing her last name to her brother's middle name, she quickly graduated to the New York Folk circuit. When she was just 15, she recorded a self-titled debut album that contained a song called "Society's Child", a social comment on interracial romance written while waiting to meet with her school guidance counsellor. While banned by a few radio stations, the single failed to attract much notice until conductor Leonard Bernstein invited its writer to perform the song on his television special Inside Pop: The Rock Revolution. The ensuing publicity and furor over its subject matter pushed "Society's Child" to #14 on the Billboard Hot 100, and made Janis Ian an overnight sensation. She was featured on The Tonight Show and in Life, Look, Time and Newsweek.

She dropped out of high school and in rapid succession, recorded three more LPs, 1967's "For All the Seasons of Your Mind", 1968's "The Secret Life of J. Eddy Fink" and 1969's "Who Really Cares", none of which sold well. Being the anti-social rebel that she was, Janis gave away most of the money she earned to friends and charities. After meeting photojournalist Peter Cunningham at a peace rally, the couple married, and at age 20, she announced her retirement from the music business. The marriage lasted barely a year and she returned to recording in 1971 with the poorly-received "Present Company".

After moving to California to hone her writing skills in seclusion, Ian resurfaced three years later with an album called "Stars", that re-established her standing, reflecting a still personal, yet less embittered perception. The title track was the subject of numerous cover versions, while "Jesse" provided a U.S. Top 10 hit for Roberta Flack. Her follow up, 1975's "Between the Lines", eclipsed all of her previous success. Not only did the LP achieve Platinum status, but the single "At Seventeen" reached #3 on the national Pop charts, went Platinum and won two Grammy Awards. Her next two albums, despite their fine songwriting, alienated many of her fans. While subsequent releases like 1977's Latin-influenced "Miracle Row", 1979's "Night Rains" and 1981's "Restless Eyes" earned critical acclaim, they sold poorly in the U.S. Critics began pointing at an increasingly maudlin self-pity and her popularity noticeably waned.

During the early 1980s, Ian broke with her record company, concentrating instead on outside interests such as stage acting and ballet dancing. She kept involved in music through performing commercial jingles and singing with other artists. She won her next Grammy Award for children's music because of her work on the 1982 album "In Harmony 2". The Recording Academy also recognized her as a Jazz artist by nominating her for a 1981 Grammy with Mel Torme as Best Vocal Duet for their recording of Ian's song "Silly Habits".

In the late 1980s, Ian suffered from a string of personal crises which interfered with her songwriting. She relocated to Nashville to recover her emotional and musical strength, then in 1993, after twelve years without a recording contract, she triumphantly returned with "Breaking Silence", a mature album of acoustic ballads which earned a Grammy nomination for Contemporary Folk Album of the Year. The album's title is a reference to her admission of homosexuality, and the music pulled no punches in tackling material like domestic violence, frank eroticism, and the Holocaust. Although her 1995 release, "Revenge" moved firmly into smooth Pop, the lyrics remained as personal, biting and original as ever.

Janis made her debut for Windham Hill Records in 1997 with "Hunger", and a year later successfully underwent surgery for a benign liver tumour. With nine Grammy Award nominations and seventeen albums to her credit, Janis Ian continued to write and perform. The year 2000 saw the release of her LP called "God and the FBI". She took time out from recording a new album to marry Patricia Snyder on August 27th, 2003, in the wedding chamber of Toronto City Hall. On July 24th, 2008, Janis released her autobiography Society's Child, which was well received by critics and fans alike. An accompanying double CD, "The Autobiography Collection", was also released, featuring many of her most loved songs. It was followed in 2009 by the LP "The Essential Janis Ian".

Janis has been staying busy with her scholarship fund called The Pearl Foundation as well as tours across the U.S. In 2013, she won a Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album for her autobiography, Society's Child, beating out Bill Clinton, Michelle Obama and Ellen Degeneres. In 2015 she still maintained an active touring schedule across America, but her website showed only a handful of personal appearances slated for 2017.

For more, be sure to read Gary James' Interview With Janis Ian