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singer best known for "Piece of My Heart" and "Me and Bobby McGee"
Janis Lyn Joplin was born in Port Arthur, Texas, on January 19, 1943, the oldest of three children. Her father worked for an oil company and her was a mother a registrar for a local business college. She developed an interest in music at an early age, and her voice earned her acclaim in her church choir and as a member of the Glee Club at Thomas Jefferson High School. Janis was initially a good student and popular with her classmates, but that changed after she hit puberty, which left her with a serious case of acne and slightly overweight. The butt of jokes because of her acne and weight, Janis developed a rebellious streak, which alienated her from most of her fellow classmates. She did, however, develop a friendship with a group of male students who shared her interest in blues and jazz music and the Beat Generation culture, and that group of friends helped her make it through high school.
After graduating from high school in 1960, Joplin entered the Lamar State College of Technology, but she was more interested in hanging out with friends and drinking than studying and left after one semester. She then took some secretarial courses at Port Arthur College, but she enjoyed those classes even less. She moved to Los Angeles in 1961 hoping to pursue music, but returned to Port Arthur after only a few months. In 1962 she enrolled at the University of Texas at Austin, where she began performing at musical gatherings on campus and at a local club. Her distinctive raspy yet powerful voice earned her notice, and in 1963 she and friend Chet Helms went to San Francisco, then the heart of the folk music scene. Janis played a few gigs in San Francisco clubs and even performed on a side stage at the 1963 Monterey Folk Festival, but she enjoyed little success. She eventually found herself in Haight-Ashbury, the heart of the counter-culture movement, and it was there that she became addicted to drugs, especially heroin and amphetamines. Even though drug use was a common part of Haight-Ashbury culture, by 1965 it was obvious that Janis was on a path of self-destruction and her friends convinced her to return home and get clean.
Janis took her friends' advice and returned to Port Arthur in 1965. She spent a year trying to live a clean, "normal" life and even began sociology studies at Lamar State College, but she finally decided that "normal" did not suit her and she moved back to San Francisco in 1966.
Soon after returning to San Francisco, Joplin joined Big Brother and the Holding Company, a local band managed by her friend Chet Helms. She only sang a few songs in her early days with the group, but her voice gradually gained her more prominence. The band recorded its self-titled debut album in 1966, but the record company refused to release it until after the band had gained an audience. That audience was acquired when Big Brother played at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival, where Janis' voice seemed to captivate everyone. Big Brother and the Holding Company was released that same year, but sales were lackluster. The band's second album, Cheap Thrills, featuring "Piece of My Heart" and "Summertime," was released in August 1968 and achieved gold record status, however. By this time Janis had become the undisputed star of Big Brother, and her status was causing friction among band members. Although she had formed a close friendship with most of her bandmates, Janis decided to leave the group in December 1968 and strike out on her own.
After leaving Big Brother, Janis formed the Kozmic Blues Band, with which she recorded I Got Dem Ol' Kozmic Blues Again Mama!, featuring "Try (Just a Little Bit Harder)" and "To Love Somebody," in 1969. That summer she performed as a solo act at Woodstock. In the spring of 1970 she formed the Full Tilt Boogie Band, with which she recorded several singles.
Janis Joplin was staying at the Landmark Motor Hotel (now the Highland Gardens Hotel) in Hollywood when she died of a heroin overdose on October 4, 1970. Her final album, Pearl, was released in 1971. That album contained her two biggest hits, "Me and Bobby McGee" (her only #1 single) and "Mercedes-Benz." She was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995.
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This page was last updated on 06/09/2018.