Where did your interest in humanitarian issues come from?
I was living with a family of Quakers. I was very tuned in to the outside world and to social efforts made to better conditions in other parts of the world. There is a branch of Quakers called “American Friends Service Committee” – you go and work in camps in different parts of the world that are impoverished. So I was awakened to that when I was quite young. And also the importance of non-violence in the Quaker community was what really did stay with me through all the years.
You have been heralded as being one of the first musicians to use your public platform as a vehicle for social protest?
I just have this mission in my head … it was very natural to me to put the singing and the activism together and to realise that nothing really changes unless you’re willing to take a risk.
You recently accepted the accolade of Amnesty International Ambassador of Conscience. What was it like to receive such recognition?
I look at it as an educational tool for Amnesty – a lot was revealed to the public who may not have known anything about what they do – as well as an honour to myself.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
I’ve been painting for four years and that’s an importance part of my life. I’m about to make another album, which I haven’t done in five or six years. So that’s a big issue for me.
Do you think it’s harder for younger musicians to speak out on different humanitarian issues? Or do you think they still have a voice and they’re still able to do that?
Even if a singer or songwriter was really gifted and wanted to say something in a song, it’s really a question of where’s it going to be played? In the 60s, musicians like Dylan and Joni Mitchell and myself … we became culture. Today, if a kid writes a song, a really good song, it all stays underground until there’s a way for it to slide into the cultural atmosphere.
Joan Baez is touring Australia from September 20 – 27 and New Zealand from October 15 – 17.