THE JANIS IAN STORY
"Before Ellen came out and anyone who wasn't a Bible scholar knew who Lilith was..before Jewel even...there was Janis Ian." Rolling Stone, October 1997
Her grandparents were immigrants, and she was raised to believe in the American Dream. Her parents taught her that even though America was not perfect, it was the best country on earth because it allowed you to help change the bad things. That's why they attended rallies for civil rights, and embraced socialist ideas that were not the norm in that era. When her father, a New Jersey chicken farmer, went to a meeting about the price of eggs, the F.B.I. picked him up on his way home. A year later, Janis was born into a world of surveillance, interviews with neighbors and landlords, moving often because her father would be denied tenure, being observed through binoculars at her summer camp as a six year old.
As a musician, Janis was a child prodigy, asking for piano lessons at two and progressing from there to French horn, trumpet, and "anything else I could get my hands on." She was only 10 when she first picked up her father's battered Martin D-18 guitar, and just 13 when she published her first song in Broadside Magazine. And at age 14, she wrote the song that charted her life's course, a song that Arlene Levinson of the Associated Press described as "a white teenager indicting America for its racism and hypocrisy." Janis Ian says, "My parents never punished me for telling the truth, no matter how awful it was... I was only punished for lying." Levinson says, "That honesty, its eloquence and depth, may be her chief legacy to contemporary music."
Society's Child rocked the nation at a time when the Supreme Court had yet to repeal the laws against interracial marriage, and when civil rights unrest was cresting. It was banned across the country by radio stations as "subversive", a position that was later reversed when the brilliant composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein became Janis' most vocal supporter. The song went to #1 and the teenager was suddenly hanging out with Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin, appearing on television shows, and getting hate mail.
A few years later, she had given most of her money away to friends and charities, and was considered a "has-been." With the tenacity and perserverance that would see her through four decades as an artist, she staged her first "comeback" with what would be become a classic anthem for disaffected teenagers "At Seventeen." Not only did the song win Ian two Grammys, selling over a million copies; it led to a seven-year period of unbridled success that gave her #1 records in every Western country. The "has-been" was suddenly in demand as the first musical guest on the inaugural broadcast of Saturday Night Live, the first pop artist to play the Sydney Opera House, and too many other "firsts" to mention. Ian, never one to be comfortable with the status quo, used her new-found popularity to challenge social trends by daring to appear in pants on The Tonight Show.
Shortly after her time in the spotlight, Janis Ian disappeared for what would turn out to be almost 10 years. She studied acting with Stella Adler, married, and had plans to start a family, but the marriage ended in a painful divorce. Her accountant duped her, and the IRS came after her for seven years of back taxes that had never been paid. She sold everything...her prized Bosendorfer piano, her house, her guitars, even her publishing catalogue...to settle up. When she moved to Nashville in 1988, she had little more than a couple of guitars and the clothes on her back. She began writing songs for other artists such as Bette Midler, whose cover of "Some People's Lives" was the title track of the album, selling over 2 million copies worldwide.
Her next dramatic comeback in 1993 was with Breaking Silence, a tour de force that not only earned her a ninth Grammy nomination, but announced her sexual orientation to the world. She began talking openly of her lesbianism on controversial radio and TV shows like Howard Stern, and became a champion for issues of the 90's like spousal abuse and AIDS.
The label that released Breaking Silence went under, but Janis Ian once again survived. She formed her own label as an independent artist, met the love of her life, bought a big, old rambling house and continued doing what she does best...writing great songs. Inbetween, she somehow became a brilliant guitarist, lauded by none other than Chet Atkins; turned into a prose writer of uncommon depth and humor as monthly columnist for both The Advocate and Performing Songwriter; began writing short stories (every single one published), culminating in the Stars anthology; released her autobiography to rave reviews, and fulfilled her lifelong dream of being a "sideman" by playing all the acoustic guitar parts on Angela Aki's album Life.
Download The Janis Ian Story as a PDF document.
JANIS IAN: CAREER HIGHLIGHTS
1951 Born April 7th to Victor (a farmer who became a music teacher) and Pearl (a waitress who became a fundraiser)
1954 Asks for piano lessons
1961 Teaches self guitar
1963 Writes first song, "Hair of Spun Gold"
1965 Writes "Society's Child"
1966 Records "Society's Child" and first album, Janis Ian.
1967 Leonard Bernstein's Inside Pop-The Rock Revolution CBS TV Special showcases Janis and radio reverses its position on "Society's Child." Janis Ian album nominated for Grammy. Releases second album, ...For All the Seasons of Your Mind.
1968 Writes 5 songs used in Paul Leaf/Dustin Hoffman film Sunday Father; releases third album, The Secret Life of J. Eddy Fink.
1969 Scores film Four Rode Out starring Leslie Nielson, Pernell Roberts & Sue Lyon. Releases fourth album, Who Really Cares. Leaves music industry and moves to Philadelphia.
1971 Writes "Jesse" and "Stars."
1972 Moves to Los Angeles; writes the rest of her next album.
1973 Records Stars album.
1974 Roberta Flack makes "Jesse" a top ten hit; records Between the Lines, with "At Seventeen."
1975 First musical guest on NBC's premiere broadcast of Saturday Night Live; receives 5 Grammy nominations for Between the Lines (most for any female performer to that date). Wins two Grammys.
1976 Writes/records six songs for Mare Winningham Movie Of the Week Freedom; records Aftertones, which stays in top ten of Japanese charts for a year. "Love Is Blind" #1 on Japanese pop charts for six months; album highest selling female artist album in Japan history. Both records still unbroken. Aftertones is platinum in Japan; gold in the US, UK, Holland.
1977 Sings & writes theme for movie Betrayal / #1 on the charts in Japan & Europe; records Miracle Row. "Will You Dance" #1 in Japan for months.
1978 Grammy nomination for Best Jazz Duet with Mel Torme, singing her song "Silly Habits."
1979 Records Night Rains. Sings "Fly Too High" on soundtrack of Jodie Foster movie Foxes; song becomes #1 record worldwide except the United States and Japan.
1980 Composes theme for the Chuck Connors/Glenn Ford film Virus.
1981 Records Restless Eyes; after record company shows their disinterest, leaves CBS and a 5-album, multi-million dollar contract. Moves back to Los Angeles, studies acting with Stella Adler, dance with Dora Krannig.
1983 Buys first computer, an IBM.
1986 Goes to Nashville and begins co-writing in earnest. Songs are covered by Kathy Mattea, Bette Midler, Amy Grant, Nanci Griffith, and a host of others.
1992 Contributes "Days Like These" to the soundtrack of John Mellencamp's movie Falling from Grace. After a 10 year silence, emerges with Breaking Silence; album is nominated for a Grammy.
1993 Forms Rude Girl Records and begins leasing the album masters she owns to affiliates worldwide as an independent artist.
1994 Becomes first "iconoclast" monthly columnist for The Advocate; also begins writing a monthly column for fledgling magazine Performing Songwriter.
1998 Holds first online auction (no, really) and raises $73,000 with her personal memorabilia to fund a Pearl Foundation scholarship in memory of her mother. The Foundation has raised close to a half-million dollars so far.
2000 Puts together the Stars anthology, a book of science fiction stories by all her favorite authors, based on her songs, co-edited with Mike Resnick and published by DAW/Penguin.
2004 Has biggest touring year since 1979; nine countries, over 250 dates. Vows to slow down.
2008 Releases Society's Child: My Autobiography on Tarcher/Penguin. Simultaneously releases Best of Janis Ian two-CD set.
2010 Receives Berklee College of Music's first Liberal Arts award, "Janis Ian - an artist for all time."
2013 Grammy Award for Society's Child: My Autobiography Best Spoken Word
Download Janis Ian: Career Highlights as a PDF document.
JANIS CLEARS THE RECORD
I wasn't born in New York. I'm not even from New York. I just lived in New York. People who weren't born and raised in New York never say they're from New York. Only people who wish they had been say that. I was born in a Bronx hospital (because it was near my grandmother's apartment). My mom and dad took me, along with my grandmother, back to our South New Jersey farm the next morning.
I changed my name because I wanted a name of my own. I did that when I was thirteen. My family name was just something they handed us when my grandparents hit Ellis Island. I thought picking my kid brother's middle name had more to do with me than that!
I did not graduate from New York's High School of Music & Art. I attended classes there for six months, until the principal asked me to leave. I find it stunningly ironic that they now claim me as a "success story."
My birthday is April 7th, 1951. (Billie Holiday's was April 7th, 1915. I've always taken comfort in that.) I don't know why May 7th keeps floating around the Web.
I have a 10th grade education, but I did get a GED to make my mom happy years later. She thought I was going to college with it. I didn't go to college. I don't play well with others....
I did turn down Woodstock – though it's possible I was there and just can't remember. I also turned down The Graduate. If you want reassurance that you can survive your own bad judgment, read my article "Monumental Mistakes"
Vance Gilbert is not my son by Jimi Hendrix. Or by Richie Havens. "Society's Child" was not written about Vance. Although it's a much more interesting story that way, I must admit.
Yes, I knew Jimi. Yes, I knew "the other Janis." I knew a lot of famous dead people. I don't really like talking about them, though.
The woman who thinks "Jesse" is about a stalker is really, really wrong.
I was, along with Billy Preston, the first performer to sing on Saturday Night Live. There was this Jim guy playing with puppets behind a papier mache wall, and all I could think was "Good gosh, what have I gotten myself into?!"
When I run with scissors, it's usually with the intention of sticking them in someone's neck.
I've lived in Nashville, Tennessee full time since 1988. It's a kinder, gentler life.
I would rather stay home and write than be on the road. It's not that I don't love performing – I do. I just hate the travel, and the time it takes away from writing.
I'm 4'10". People always say "I didn't know you were so short!" Please don't tell me that. I already know it.
Tina Fey named one of her characters "Janis Ian" in her film Mean Girls. I thought it was kind of cool, even though the character is not as tall as I am.
It floats around on line that I was married a whole mess of times. That's not true. I married Tino Sargo in 1978 and divorced him five years later. I've been with my partner Patricia since 1989; we were married in Toronto, Canada in 2003. Just those two. Honest.
My secret dream? To stay home and write full time without spending most of my days doing business.
My second secret dream? To be a famous acoustic guitarist and get to play on everyone's records.
I'm too busy, too much of the time. If I had time and space for hobbies, I'd be a part-time archaeologist, cook, gardener, veterinarian, space jockey. But at the moment, I only have time to be Janis Ian.
I'm really uncomfortable when people bring me expensive gifts (though I would make an exception for a beach house or country estate!!) I read a lot, mostly science fiction and historical fiction. I live for used bookstores. If you want to make me happy, bring me a book.
Download Janis Clears The Record as a PDF document.
JANIS IAN FILM & TELEVISION PROJECTS
Four Rode Out (1967) starring Sue Lyons & Pernell Roberts; title, score + 4 songs.
Sunday Father (1968) dir. by Paul Leaf, starring Dustin Hoffman; title & score + 6 songs.
Goodbye Mama Japanese TV show features "Love Is Blind" and runs for 5 years
Kishibe No Album Japanese TV features "Will You Dance" and runs for 5 years.
The Bell Jar (1978) starring Julie Harris; title + theme: "Here Comes the Night."
Betrayal (1979) title, theme, 2 additional songs.
Foxes (1979) directed by Adrian Lyme, starring Jodie Foster; title "Fly Too High" (with Giorgio Moroder).
Virus (1980) title "When the Rainbow's Gone" and theme "You Are Love" (with Teo Macero).
Freedom (1981) ABC TV Movie Of the Week starring Mare Winningham; theme, title + six songs.
Murder She Wrote (1988) two songs "Charm the Skin Off A Snake" & "Lucky."
Falling From Grace (1990) directed by John Mellencamp; "Days Like These."
Kishenobo (weekly Japanese television drama) (1998/1999) theme song
Teaching Mrs. Tingle (1999) top "At Seventeen"
Desert Blue (1999) end title "Sweet Misery"
The Monkey's Mask (1999) "Fly Too High" remix
The Little Photographer (1999) "Society's Child"
Warrior (2004) "Night Rains"
Plastic (2006) "Matthew"
Tru Loved (2007) "Tenderness"
Nothing Special (2010) "Days Like These"
Okay, we stopped keeping track at some point, this is just what we remember....
A few television shows that have used Janis' work:
America's Most Wanted ("Breaking Silence")
All My Children ("The Last Comeback" and "Hunger")
Dawson's Creek ("Days Like These" and "Getting Over You")
Entertainment Tonight ("At 17")
Freedom Sings ("Society's Child")
Get Real ("On the Other Side")
General Hospital ("When Angels Cry" featured in six seperate episodes)
Roseanne("god & the fbi")
The View ("Society's Child")
The Grammy Nominations Special (Celine Dion singing "At Seventeen")
Two Guys & A Girl
Commercials/PSA's (singer and/or writer):
Coca-Cola "It's The Real Thing" campaign
AT&T "Reach Out & Touch Someone" campaign
Budweiser Light (first radio campaign)
McDonald's (first Egg McMuffin campaign)
Nescafe Coffee (theme song)
The Farm Sanctuary (PSA spot "Mockingbird")
Second Harvest Food Bank (PSA spot "The Great Divide")
The Navy/Department of Defense (PSA spot for families of MIA's, "Jesse")
Fujifilm, JT Products, Ubacha Tea Japan (theme songs)
Download Janis Ian Film & Television Projects as a PDF document.
JANIS IAN COVERS
A partial list of people who've recorded Janis' songs (some of these may surprise you!).
*If you know of other significant recordings, please send us an email!
Jeff Steves & the Bullets
Conny v.d. Bos
Download Janis Ian Covers as a PDF document.
This is a poster promoting the new book, the new album, and the current tour... it's like three posters for the price of one!! Oh, wait...it's free...except for the printing.
The file is available in a high resolution .jpeg, for professional printing and use in promoting Janis concerts and book signings.
Poster was recreated as of August 18, 2008 to make it standard sizes for more economical printing. If you downloaded the old file, you might want to update to the new files available below. You'll save a bundle in printing!
To download any file simply right-click (option-click Mac) on the logo and choose "Save Target As..." or "Save Linked File To Desktop" or something similar (different browsers use different wording).
2013 Audie Award for Society's Child: My Autobiography Best Narration by an Author
2013 Grammy Award for Society's Child: My Autobiography Best Spoken Word
2011 Rhysling Awards nominee for "Welcome Back (The Nebulas Song)"
2010 Berklee College of Music Honored by Berklee College of Music as "An Artist For All Times" with their first Liberal Arts award
2009 Nebula Awards toastmistress
2009 JPF Music Award: best political song "Dange Danger"
2009 JPF Music Award: best new folk song "Shadows On the Wind"
2009 JPF Music Award: Best New Folk Album "Folk Is the New Black"
2009 JPF Founder's Award: Live Artist of the Year
2002 Grammy Hall of Fame "At Seventeen" elected to Grammy Hall of Fame
2008 JPF Music Award: Best Celtic Song "Mary's Eyes"
2008 Dove Awards: "Love Will Be Enough" (Janis Ian/Paul Overstreet)
nominated Best Bluegrass Recorded Song, by Ricky Skaggs & the Whites
2007 New York State Senate Honored for civil rights work
2006 JPF Music Award: Songwriter of the Year
2002 Grammy Hall of Fame "Society's Child" elected to Grammy Hall of Fame
1998 Human Rights Campaign Fund, Nashville (HRC) for efforts on behalf of gay rights, and AIDs work.
1998 "The Center" Women's Center of Los Angeles Honored for "creative excellence and integrity"; award presented by friend Kathy Bates.
1998 MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) Honored for "extraordinary
1996 Middle Tennessee University for a "lifetime of commitment to education and diversity in the arts".
1995 Elton John Foundation and NGLTF (HRC) for AIDs work (headlined first AIDs benefit in NY, first AIDs benefit in Nashville, first pediatric AIDs benefit nationwide).
1994 Queen Beatrice of Holland Honored for "extraordinary artistic contributions"
1993 Grammy Nomination: "Best Folk Performance- Breaking Silence"
1983 LSU, California for artistic contributions.
1981 Grammy Nomination: "Best Children's Recording - Sesame Street: In House" for "Ginny the Flying Girl."
1978 Grammy nomination: "Best Jazz Vocal Performance, Duo or Group - Silly Habits" with Mel Torme, from the album Mel Torme & Friends.
1975 Grammy Awards: "Best pop female vocalist- At Seventeen" and "Best engineered recording- Between the Lines"
1975 Grammy nominations: "Album of the Year -Between the Lines", "Song of the Year - At Seventeen", and "Record of the Year – At Seventeen".
1966 Grammy nomination: "Best Folk Performance- Janis Ian".
ASCAP Awards "Jesse" and "At Seventen"