Janis Ian Biography

Janis Eddy Fink, 7 April 1951, the Bronx, New York, USA. A teenage prodigy, Ian first attracted attention when her early composition, ‘Hair Of Spun Gold’, was published in a 1964 issue of Broadside magazine. Performances at New York’s Village Gate and Gaslight venues inspired a recording contract that began with the controversial ‘Society’s Child (Baby I’ve Been Thinking)’. Brought to national prominence following the singer’s appearance on Leonard Bernstein’s television show, this chronicle of a doomed, interracial romance was astonishingly mature and inspired a series of equally virulent recordings attacking the perceived hypocrisy of an older generation. Ian’s dissonant, almost detached delivery, enhanced the lyricism offered on a series of superior folk rock-styled albums, notably 1968’s A Song For All The Seasons Of Your Mind.

Later relocated in California, Janis began writing songs for other artists, but re-embraced recording in 1971 with Present Company. The 1974 follow-up Stars 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 US Top 10 hit for Roberta Flack. The chart-topping Between The Lines contained the evocatively simple ‘At Seventeen’, a Grammy Award-winning US Top 5 hit, and subsequent releases continued to reflect a growing sophistication. Night Rains included songs featured in the movies Foxes and The Bell Jar, but although ‘Fly Too High’ was a surprise disco hit critics began pointing at an increasingly maudlin self-pity.

The artist’s impetus noticeably waned during the 80s and beset by health and financial problems Ian seemed to have retired from music altogether. She relocated to Nashville in 1988 and set about restoring her belief in music, re-emerging in 1991 for live performances and appearing on a UK concert stage for the first time in 10 years. Breaking Silence was an impressive comeback album which dealt with, amongst other issues, Ian’s recent coming out. Although 1995’s Revenge moved firmly into smooth pop the lyrics remained as personal, biting and original as ever.

Ian made her debut for Windham Hill Records in 1997 with Hunger, and a year later successfully underwent surgery for a benign liver tumour. She returned in 2000 with a new studio album, God & The FBI, matching the stridency of her lyrics with a stylistically diverse musical backing. A strong live album was released in 2003, but of more artistic note was the following year’s studio set Billie’s Bones.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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