“Joan Baez: How Sweet the Sound” airs October 14 on PBS
“Joan Baez: How Sweet the Sound” explores fifty years of her music and commitment to peace and human rights. It airs October 14 on PBS as part of its American Masters series.
An illuminating portrait of Joan and three invigorating people in her life can be found in David Hajdu’s rewarding 2001 biography, “Positively 4th Street: The Lives and Times of Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Mimi Baez Farina and Richard Farina.” The book begins with her coffee house days in Cambridge and essentially ends with the death of her brother-in-law in 1966.
While the film spans her entire life & activities, Hajdu’s book richly mines a specific time and her relationships with specific people, including what I think is one of the great love stories of the past century. No, not Joan & Bob, but rather Mimi & Richard.
“Positively 4th Street” is essential reading for anyone even remotely interested in those times. And it is notable for what it is not — it is not a fanzine. Hajdu had earlier written the definitive biography of Billy Strayhorn, “Lush Life.”
While more informative essays on Joan are available on the PBS website, here’s an introductory blurb:
Features rare performance footage and candid interviews with David Crosby, Bob Dylan, ex-husband David Harris, Reverend Jesse Jackson, Roger McGuinn, and more Joan Baez made her debut appearance at the Newport Folk Festival in 1959. Fifty years later she returned to that same Rhode Island stage on August 2, marking her and the festival’s 50th anniversaries. She is presently on a worldwide tour in celebration of her 50 years as a performer and in support of her Grammy-nominated CD, Day After Tomorrow.
In the first comprehensive documentary to chronicle the private life and public career of Joan Baez, American Masters examines her history as a recording artist and performer as well as her remarkable journey as the conscience of a generation in Joan Baez: How Sweet the Sound, premiering nationally Wednesday, October 14, 2009 at 8 p.m. (ET) on PBS (check local listings). The film coincides with the DVD/CD release on October 13th on Razor & Tie. This DVD/CD will feature the film with bonus content and an audio CD of music from the film. The audio CD contains rare live performances and studio recordings that span her career.
“From an early age, Joan Baez had the courage of her convictions,” says Susan Lacy, series creator and executive producer of American Masters, a six-time winner of the Emmy Award for Outstanding Primetime Non-Fiction Series. “Her artistry and her commitment to human rights make her a musical and political force as relevant today as when she first started.”
Following Baez on her 2008/2009 world tour, the filmmakers captured Baez in performance as well as in intimate conversations with individuals whose lives parallel hers. From a stop in Sarajevo, Bosnia to revisit the scene of Joan’s courageous trip to that war-torn city in the middle of the 1993 siege, to Nashville, Tennessee, where she joined Steve Earle to talk about their collaboration on Joan’s 2008 Grammy-nominated album Day After Tomorrow, the film allows viewers an unprecedented level of access to Ms. Baez.
Shot in high definition with a natural, filmic look, Joan is also joined on screen by, David Crosby, Bob Dylan, Roger McGuinn and Reverend Jesse Jackson, among others, to illuminate this extraordinary life. Rich historical archival footage – Baez’ controversial visit to North Vietnam, where she is seen praying with the residents of Hanoi during the heaviest bombing of the war; Martin Luther King Jr. outside a California prison where he visited Joan to offer his support after she was jailed for staging a protest; Joan at her first Newport Folk Festival in 1959 and Joan as a teenager performing at the historic Club 47 – is woven into the story so viewers can experience scenes from Joan’s life that have never been uncovered.
The grit of the film is Baez’ power as a musician – from her tentative teenage years in the Cambridge, Mass coffee houses to her emergence onto the world stage and the 50-year career that followed – Joan Baez is a musical force of nature and this film captures her strength as a performer and the influence she has brought to bear on successive generations of artists.