Judy Collins Biography

Judith Marjorie Collins, 1 May 1939, Seattle, Washington, USA. One of the leading female singers to emerge from America’s folk revival in the early 60s, Judy Collins was originally trained as a classical pianist. Having discovered traditional music while a teenager, she began singing in the clubs of Central City and Denver, before embarking on a full-time career with engagements at Chicago’s Gate Of Horn and New York’s famed Gerde’s. Signed to Elektra Records in 1961, Collins’ early releases emphasized her traditional repertoire. However, by the release of 1964’s #3, her clear, virginal soprano was tackling more contemporary material. This pivotal selection, which included Bob Dylan’s ‘Masters Of War’, was arranged by future Byrds’ guitarist Jim McGuinn. Judy Collins’ Fifth Album (1965) was the artist’s last purely folk collection. Compositions by Dylan, Richard Fariña, Eric Andersen and Gordon Lightfoot had gained the ascendancy, but Collins henceforth combined such talent with songs culled from theatre’s bohemian fringes. In My Life (1966) embraced Jacques Brel, Bertolt Brecht, Kurt Weill and the then-unknown Leonard Cohen, while the following year’s Wildflowers introduced Joni Mitchell and in the process spawned a popular hit with the Grammy Award winning ‘Both Sides Now’. These releases were also marked by Joshua Rifkin’s studied string arrangements, which also became a feature of the singer’s work.

Collins’ 1968 release, Who Knows Where The Time Goes is probably her finest work. A peerless backing group, including Stephen Stills and Van Dyke Parks, added sympathetic support to her interpretations, while her relationship with the former resulted in his renowned composition, ‘Suite: Judy Blue Eyes’. The singer’s next release, Whales & Nightingales, was equally impressive, and included the million-selling single, ‘Amazing Grace’. However, its sculpted arrangements were reminiscent of earlier work and although Collins’ own compositions were meritorious, she was never a prolific writer. Her reliance on outside material grew increasingly problematic as the era of classic songwriters drew to a close and the artist looked to outside interests. She remained committed to the political causes born out of the 60s protest movement and fashioned a new career by co-producing Antonia: A Portrait Of The Woman, a 1974 film documentary about her former classical mentor which was nominated for an Academy Award.

Collins did secure another international hit in 1975 with a version of Stephen Sondheim’s ‘Send In The Clowns’. Although subsequent recordings have lacked her former perception, and indeed have grown increasingly infrequent, she remains an immensely talented interpreter. In recent years Collins has shown a gift for writing novels, while the new millennium saw her launching the Wildflower Records label.

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

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