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© Claude Salhani/Sygma/Corbis
The queen bee of (especially ‘60s) folk, she was also for a time influenced by and an influence upon the young Bob Dylan. In a songbook first published in 1964, songs she had already made famous were divided into ‘Lyrics and Laments’, ‘Child Ballads’, ‘Broadside Ballads’, ‘American Ballads’, ‘Hymns, Spirituals and Lullabies’ and ‘Composed Songs’. Categories which reinforced her - and folk’s - versatility.
Joan was described by John M Conly in his preface as “a beauty, as a person and vocally”. He thought she had two aspects. One, “her truly lucent voice, vital and lofting, with a timbre that is a resistless distillate of poignancy and thrill”. Two, “what she does with her humanity, a focus of feelings”. Through this extravagant gushing, it’s possible to recognise the awe in which she is held in music across the spectrum.
She said to The Sunday Times (UK) in 2006: “I quit writing songs a number of years ago, I had writer’s block. I’ve gone back very much to my roots musically. As it turns out, politically it’s absolutely the right thing to do”.
Bluegrass is not folk, it’s American roots music. Some call it a cousin of country descending from English and Celtic immigrants to the US with jazz influences. It was described by Bill Monroe, bluegrass pioneer, as ‘Scottish bagpipes and ole-time fiddling, Methodist, Holiness, Baptist with a high lonesome sound’.
But it does touch the same roots and chords as pure folk, and channels much of the same old-fashioned, rural/industrial heartbreak, life and misery.