The General Journal

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The General Journal

The General Journal

Peace, Love, & Janis Joplin

Who was Janis Joplin? Join Kinsley for an overview of this famous 1960’s singer’s life and death.
Kinsley Cheatham

When people talk about rock icons there are a few names that immediately come to mind: Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix, Elvis Presley, Tina Turner, David Bowie–the list goes on. However, there is one name that was once known by every household but has since been forgotten by new generations. That name belongs to one of the first pioneers of women in rock: Janis Joplin. 

Joplin had many hits throughout her career, some of them being “Summertime,” “Piece of My Heart,” and my personal two favorites “Mercedes Benz” and “Me and Bobby McGee.” Despite some of her songs being so well known throughout her era, many people don’t know Joplin’s actual story and how she became a part of the infamous ‘27 Club.’ 

Joplin was born on January 19th, 1943, and from a very early age had shown an interest in music. When she was a young girl she sang in her church’s choir.  As Joplin grew up she was bullied for her appearance, especially her weight, and was never known for being ‘conventionally attractive’. This might be why later on in high school and life in general she had a rebellious streak. Joplin was known to forgo the dainty look preferred by most young women in the late 50’s, instead wearing men’s shirts or short skirts. By the time her high school career was coming to the end, Joplin had built up a reputation for her ‘rebel hippie lifestyle’ that she was known for in her  later life. Joplin went to many different colleges. At the beginning of 1963 Joplin had left school to take a trip to San Francisco to see the music scene and try her own hand at it, which proved unsuccessful. She returned back to her hometown in 1965 to try and get a hold of herself after suffering from an alcohol and drug problem.

After trying to have a conventional life, Joplin realized it wasn’t for her and started dipping her feet back into the water of performing. In 1966 she was recruited by one of her friends to join a new up and coming rock band in San Francisco: Big Brothers and the Holding Company. Joplin initially only sang a few songs in the band and played tambourine in the background, but it wasn’t long till she became a much bigger part of the band. What really made the band shine however, was their appearance at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967—specifically their cover of famous R&B singer, Mama Thorton’s “Ball and Chain.” The crowd was absolutely enamored by Joplin’s gutsy and raw vocal performance, which caused a bit of a rift between her and her bandmates.

A year later in 1968 the band released their widely successful album “Cheap Thrills,” which included famous songs like “Piece of my Heart” and “Summertime.” Later on in December of 1968, Joplin decided to go solo and leave the band. In 1969 Joplin performed at one of the most historical events in music history: Woodstock 1969. A few months later, Joplin released her first solo album “I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again Momma!” It faced mixed reviews, some people were angry that Joplin was trying to prove herself in a male dominated world. Soon, Joplin disbanded the group and formed a new group, “Full Tilt Boogie.”  In an interview with Howard Smith and “The Village Voice,” Joplin expressed how she felt about the mixed reviews, “It was really important, you know, whether people were going to accept me or not.”  In this interview she talked about her nearly finished new album. However, Four days after the interview, Joplin was found dead in her hotel room due to a heroin overdose. That same day, she was supposed to put down the vocals of her last unfinished song, “Buried Alive in the Blues,” which was included in her very last album “Pearl” as a tribute to the rock singer. Heartbreakingly, a love letter from Joplin’s ex-boyfriend,  Dave Niehaus, arrived at her hotel room a day after her death. Her last album “ Pearl,” was derived from Joplin’s nickname, which she started going by sometime after she left the Brothers Holding Company. “I’m tired of being Janis. Call me Pearl,” she once explained. 

Joplin died at the young age of only 27 years old. Due to this, Joplin’s death became one of the first members of the mythical ‘27 Club’ which is an informal list of other musicians and celebrities who all died at 27, most of them being from either drugs or violence. Despite being one of the first of these deaths, the third to be specific, the idea of this club didn’t really come around until the death of Kurt Cobain.

While Janis Joplin had a very short career, she certainly made a big impact on the world. After her death, many people jumped to make books, movies, and articles about her life and career. Despite her death being over 53 years ago, her legacy lives on today. 

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About the Contributor
Kinsley Cheatham
Kinsley Cheatham, Staff Writer
Kinsley Cheatham is a freshman this year at Heritage High School. At school Kinsley is involved in the Tech Team for the musical and a member of the Creative Writing Club, in addition to being on the Journalism staff. When she isn’t doing any of that, you can most likely find her listening to music and creating some sort of art piece. Her favorite music artists consist of Janis Joplin, Melanie Martinez, Lana Del Rey, Insane Clown Posse, The Beastie Boys, and various rock bands from the 80s and 90s. Kinsley hopes to be some sort of therapist when she’s older, as she enjoys giving advice and helping people. She also enjoys watching movies a lot; her favorite movies happen to be "The Breakfast Club," "Heathers," and "Night at the Museum." She has one dog, a Golden Retriever named Lola. Kinsley is very excited to be in Journalism this year and cannot wait to see how the rest of her freshman year will go.