In her fi(h decade of wri0ng songs and performing, Janis Ian won her second Grammy Award of 9 total nomina0ons in 8 categories over the years! Her 2013 Grammy, presented at the 55th Annual Grammy Awards ceremony, is for Best Spoken Word Album for her audio book "Society's Child” (Audible.com). She had s0ff compe00on -- President Bill Clinton, First Lady Michelle Obama, Rachel Maddow and Ellen DeGeneres. Like most everything she does, “We did the en0re thing live, including the singing and playing. No edits, no overdubs, no recording studio.” When she won, she sincerely considered it to be a “stunning upset.” With her inimitable sense of humor, she went on to say "There must be a joke in here somewhere. An ex-president, a First Lady and three lesbians go into a bar..."
On a more serious note, she said, "We ar0sts are the last alchemists, pulling your dreams, your hopes, your deepest desires out of thin air, and turning them into something you can hear, and play, and sing. My first Grammy nomina0on came when I was 15 years old. For beber and for worse, I have watched my business become an industry - but one thing will never change. We don't sell music. We sell dreams."
Janis Ian began her professional life at the age of 12, when she wrote her first song and was published by Broadside Magazine. That led to her first “real” show, at New York’s venerable Village Gate, where she shared a stage with Tom Paxton (with whom she recently toured the United Kingdom), Louis Gosseb Jr., Phil Ochs, and a host of other singer-songwriters.
At 14, she wrote "Society's Child,” the name of her self-penned autobiography (Tarcher/Penguin). In addi0on to the Grammy, the audio version also received an Audie Award, the audio book indsutry’s version of the Grammys.
Her most recent accomplishment is the audio book for another amazing woman’s autobiography, The Singer & The Song, by Medical Mission Sister Miriam Therese Winter. The audio book, published by Audible Books, is narrated & sung by Janis Ian. It has already been honored with an Audiofile Magazine "Earphones Award"! Janis’ response was, “It gives me hope that in these divisive 0mes, the life of a Catholic Medical Mission Sister and theologian, narrated and sung by a gay Jewish woman, could be such a success. “
Of the project, Janis says, “Several years ago I was asked to par0cipate in a tribute CD to Miriam Therese Winter, the foremost feminist theologian on the planet. I was par0cularly intrigued because MT was also Dean of the Harkord Theological Seminary’s Women’s Studies, four-0me Catholic Book Award winner, breast cancer survivor, and a darn good songwriter. In fact, she’d sold out Carnegie Hall with her choir back in the day, and “Joy Is Like the Rain” was a song even I had heard.”
Janis con0nues, “There are 28 songs in all, ranging from her very earliest work to our own collabora0on. Recorded in the same studio we used for my autobiography, the finished arrangements u0lize everything from a borrowed “high strung” guitar to a few wine glasses I tuned with water so I could have bells on one song. While we were recording, I was some0mes so moved by the narra0ve that I had to stop and take a deep breath before I could go on. In Kenya, MT ministered to emaciated children in a crude tent with next to no supplies, having only enough for a few, and looking at a line of hundreds wai0ng for food, their starving children in their arms. When she found herself providing health care in a makeshi( hospital on the Thai-Cambodian border - to the Khmer Rouge, and to the refugees from the Khmer Rouge, all in the same ward. There were also moments where I had to stop reading and have a good laugh – when she stopped wearing the nun’s habit and went to Macy’s, shopping for ‘regular’ clothes, her descrip0on is hysterical! And of course, there were moments of sheer reflec0on, as she moved from envisioning God as ‘that man in the picture above my bed, white with brown hair and a halo’ to ‘God is so big, so femine and masculine, it’s impossible to even give it a name without lessening its size’. Fascina0ng to watch her growth; though her faith rarely wavered, her belief always remained.”
“This wonderful piece of work also allowed me to sing someone else’s songs in ways I’d never imagined. The only other 0mes I’ve recorded other peoples’ work, it’s been a single song for a specific project – ‘Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye’ for a Janet Reno schoolbook, for instance. The songs, like the book, are in linear order, so for the earliest I really had to reach back to my own folk roots when I was nine or ten. I moved from that to my teen years, which were full of jazz, and then my 20’s, when I listened to pop music all the 0me. I think it’s some of the best singing, and arranging, I’ve ever done.
“This is a truly American piece of work, wriben by a Catholic nun, with a Jewish narrator, and a choir comprised of a friends who were Mormon, Presbyterian, lapsed Cathlics and Buddhist, all joining together. That’s what makes me proudest – knowing that whatever our different beliefs may be, we can come together in music.”
Janis and Miriam Therese share many common interests, most notably that they’ve both spent their life0mes as renegades within their own fields. From Janis’ first headlining show at Greenwich Village’s Gaslight Café at age 15, her life was fraught with challenges. Most adults could not have survived the scorn and controversy that surrounded what was to become her debut single and first hit. “Society’s Child” focused on an interracial couple in an era when tempers flared at even such a men0on. The in0mida0ng boos she received on-stage from racists shied in comparison to the hate mail and death threats she was subjected to. She says of her early career, “"I wrote my first song at 12, was published at 13, made a record at 14, had a hit at 15, and was a has-been at 16. So 'At 17' means more to me than you can know."
“At Seventeen” became her trademark song and, along with the album on which it debuted, “Between the Lines,” it earned five Grammy nomina0ons and two wins including Best Pop Female Performance and Best Engineered Recording. The song has since joined “Society’s Child” in the Grammy Hall of Fame. “Love Is Blind” then went double-pla0num in Japan, where Janis s0ll holds the record for most consecu0ve 0me in the top ten (over 60 weeks at #1!). The Giorgio Morder-produced “Fly Too High” gave her pla0num number ones all over Europe, Australia, even Africa!
By then it was 1983, and “I’d make seven albums in as many years, toured nine months each of those years, and my wri0ng wasn’t what it needed to be. I’ve always protected the wri0ng first, so I knew ‘the road’ had to go.” She took a nine year hiatus from performing and recording, and “Studied theater with the incredible Stella Adler, which put me back on track as a writer, and a human being. Got divorced, moved to Nashville with three guitars, my 10-year-old car, and five pieces of furniture, and I started again. It was the making of me.” Holding her head high despite an abusive and broken marriage, devasta0ng financial crisis (her accountant of twenty years “went rogue”), and near fatal health issues, she returned to recording in 1993 with “Breaking Silence” and received her eighth Grammy nomina0on for it.
Ian believed downloading could save the music business long before any ar0st besides Courtney Love was speaking out about it. Her ar0cle The Internet Debacle: An Alterna=ve View (available on her website) has been posted on over 5,000 websites, quoted in USA Today, translated into eleven languages, used as evidence in the Napster and Grokster cases, and featured by BBC-TV. The first book she edited (with Mike Resnick), The Stars Anthology, received praise from the venerable science fic0on editor Gardner Dozois. Thirty top science fic0on writers used her songs as a backdrop for their imagina0ons. Awards were numerous, including recogni0on of a story she wrote specifically for the anthology, “Second Person Unmasked”. Says Janis, “It was my first short story. I’ve had nine published since, so I guess I’m gewng beber at it.” The anthology was recently released as an ebook as well as an audio book this year, read by the authors and Janis, also on Audible.com.
She expanded her literary horizons last year with a children’s book based on her song “The Tiny Mouse” (Lemniscaat Publishing ). The book was illustrated by mul0-award-winning Dieter & Ingrid Schubert (the first 0me they ever illustrated anyone else’s words!), and includes a CD so children can sing along.
Music and lyrics are about life experiences and, as Janis’ life has been full and colorful, so have her songs as evidenced by her mul0ple awards, Grammy and Dove Award nomina0ons and commenda0ons. Her songs have been recorded by singers as diverse as Cher, John Mellencamp, Celine Dion, Hugh Masakela, Nana Mouskouri, Charlie Daniels and Roberta Flack.
Always one to follow her heart and her beliefs, Janis was one of the first celebri0es to come out publicly. She and her partner of 25 years were formally married in Canada in 2003, the only place where gay marriage was legal at the 0me. Her roller coaster ride has taken her to Nashville, her home this past quarter-century, where she thrives with new product on her own Rude Girl Records label, ongoing touring, and perpetual and prolific songwri0ng.
Her current projects are the audio book of Pa=ence & Sarah, the award-winning (American Library Associa0on) classic piece of historical fic0on about two gay women, which is co-narrated by actress Jean Smart, and Kirinyaga, by Mike Resnick, where Janis as narrator assumes the role of an elderly Kikuyu mundumugu. This year and next will find her touring all over the US with Tom Paxton and Robin Bullock. “Got to get as many dates in before Tom starts threatening to re0re again!” she says with a grin. There are also plans to work with a major label on releasing her en0re back catalogue of recordings worldwide, along with “a lot of archival music, and a lot of surprises!”