A Brief History of Janis Joplin

     Janis Joplin is one of the most successful musicians of her time, regarded today as a rock n’ roll legend. She was ahead of her time, and was able to connect with audiences through her earth-shattering vocals (i.e. in “Piece of My Heart” and “Cry Baby”). Her childlike sense of wonder and unapologetic beliefs made her popular among bandmates and fellow musicians like the Grateful Dead and Bob Dylan. Plagued with a troubled childhood and substance addiction, Joplin was not shy to the dark side of the music industry and the worldviews of her time. This unique set of internal and external circumstances made for a life full of highs and lows, giving insight to her music and her untimely passing.Childhood

     Janis Lyn Joplin was born on January 19, 1943 in Port Arthur, Texas. The town and its inhabitants held prejudiced beliefs about the race climate of the time, and even had an active KKK chapter. Growing up, Joplin didn’t understand the hatred and violence expressed around her. Her accepting outlook, combined with the unfortunate happenings of puberty (acne, weight gain, etc.), led her to be the target of bullying from her peers. She found solace in singing in the church choir, but her wild attitude got her removed.

Early Years

     After graduating high school in 1960, Joplin attended the University of Texas. Unfortunately, she was not accepted there either. Local fraternities ran an “Ugliest Man” competition every year, and chose Joplin to receive the crown. This exploitation led her further into the blues, and she began singing in a folk group called the Waller Creek Boys.

     Her musical expression brought her to San Francisco where she began habitually drinking and using drugs. Her friends were so worried for her, that they raised money to send her back home. There she sobered up and tried to go back to college; she even found herself engaged, but just when things were looking up, she found her fiance cheating on her, and the engagement was called off.   

Big Brother & The Holding Company

     Joplin returned to San Francisco after she gained the attention of the psychedelic rock group Big Brother & the Holding Company.  She joined the band and amazed the bandmates and audiences alike with her astounding vocals. She was active in the 60s music scene, partying with the Grateful Dead (even having a brief relationship with Ron McKernan) and performing at Monterey Pop Festival. Their album, Cheap Thrills, is one of the most recognized out of their discography and features Joplin classics.

Solo Career

     Joplin left Big Brother in 1968 to embark on a solo career. Toward the end of the 60s, she was regularly using heroin, perhaps to cope with the immense pressure put on her for going solo. Joplin performed at Woodstock in 1969, and continuously performed while under the influence. She was able to escape her substance abuse while in Brazil after meeting a young American tourist; the two enjoyed their time together and had a happy relationship. She finally had someone positive in her life to aid her in her struggles, but when she returned to the U.S. she began using again, thus ending her relationship.   


     After failing to arrive for a recording session, Joplin was found dead at 27 years old in her hotel room on October 4, 1970. Her death was ruled as an accidental heroin overdose. Three months after her death, the album Pearl was released and reached number one on the Billboard charts. Her unwavering fight for equal rights and her incredible struggles make her a role model to many. For more information about Joplin, check out the documentary Little Girl Blue, or visit https://janisjoplin.com.