Janis Joplin (January 19, 1943 – October 4, 1970) was an American singer-songwriter who sang rock, soul, and blues music. One of the most successful and widely known rock stars of her era, she was noted for her powerful mezzo-soprano vocals and “electric” stage presence.
Joplin graduated from high school in 1960 and attended Lamar State College of Technology in Beaumont, Texas, during the summer and later the University of Texas at Austin (UT), though she did not complete her college studies. The campus newspaper, The Daily Texan, ran a profile of her in the issue dated July 27, 1962, headlined “She Dares to Be Different.” The article began,
“She goes barefooted when she feels like it, wears Levis to class because they’re more comfortable, and carries her autoharp with her everywhere she goes so that in case she gets the urge to break into song, it will be handy. Her name is Janis Joplin.”
While at UT she performed with a folk trio called the Waller Creek Boys and frequently socialized with the staff of the campus humor magazine The Texas Ranger.
Joplin cultivated a rebellious manner and styled herself partly after her female blues heroines and partly after the Beat poets. Her first song, “What Good Can Drinkin’ Do”, was recorded on tape in December 1962 at the home of a fellow University of Texas student.
In 1967, Joplin rose to fame following an appearance at Monterey Pop Festival, where she was the lead singer of the then little-known San Francisco psychedelic rock band Big Brother and the Holding Company. After releasing two albums with the band, she left Big Brother to continue as a solo artist with her own backing groups, first the Kozmic Blues Band and then the Full Tilt Boogie Band. She appeared at the Woodstock festival and on the Festival Express train tour. Five singles by Joplin reached the Billboard Hot 100, including a cover of the Kris Kristofferson song “Me and Bobby McGee”, which reached number one in March 1971. Her most popular songs include her cover versions of “Piece of My Heart”, “Cry Baby”, “Down on Me”, “Ball and Chain”, and “Summertime”; and her original song “Mercedes Benz”, her final recording.
Joplin died of a heroin overdose in 1970, at the age of 27, after releasing three albums (two with Big Brother and the Holding Company and one solo album). A second solo album, Pearl, was released in January 1971, just over three months after her death. It reached number one on the Billboard charts. She was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995. Rolling Stone ranked Joplin number 46 on its 2004 list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time and number 28 on its 2008 list of 100 Greatest Singers of All Time. She remains one of the top-selling musicians in the United States, with Recording Industry Association of America certifications of 18.5 million albums sold.