Childhood & Early Life
Janis Ian was born as Janis Eddy Fink to Victor and Pearl in New York City. His parents operated a summer camp in New York.
Raised in a Jewish household, young Janis spent most of her childhood days in New Jersey. She attended the East Orange High School in New Jersey to complete her formal education.
Since an early age, she had a fascination for folk music and was inspired by the music of Joan Baez, Odetta, Edith Piaf and Billie Holiday. Musically inclined, she started learning how to play the piano at the age of six.
At the age of 12, she wrote her first song ‘Hair of Spun Gold’, which was published in the folk publication Broadside. The same year, she legally changed her name from Janis Eddy Fink to Janis Ian, the last name which was the middle name of her brother Eric.
By the time she entered her teens, she had learned various musical instruments such as organ, harpsichord, French horn, flute and guitar.
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At the age of 13, she wrote and sang her first single ‘Society’s Child Baby I’ve Been Thinking’. The song depicted the interracial romance which was looked down upon by the society and the parents of the girl in love.
Since the society back then rigidly and religiously followed the rules, the lyrics of the song which mocked people who abhorred interracial relationship created a stir in the society. The song was thus banned from playing at several radio stations. She even received hate mails and death threats for the song.
Between 1965 and 1967, the song was released thrice. However, it was in its third release when Leonard Bernstein featured it in a CBS TV special titled Inside Pop: The Rock Revolution that the song went on to become a national hit.
Despite all odds, the song enjoyed immense popularity among the rest of the society, leaving a section of it. It went on to reach the number 14 status on the Billboard Hot 100 charts having sold more than 600,000 copies. The success of the song made her an overnight star
In 1967she released her eponymous debut album, ‘Janis Ian’ which was finally released on Verve Forecast. The album peaked at Number 29 and sold more than 350,000 copies.
Following her debutant hit, she came up with three more albums simultaneously, ‘For All the Seasons of Your Mind’, ‘The Secret Life of J Eddy Fink’ and Who Really Cares’ in 1967, 1968 and 1969 respectively. She distributed the profits from the album to her friends and in charities.
At the age of 20, she announced her retirement from the music industry. However, the self-proclaimed hiatus did not last for long and she returned immediately to the music scene with her album, ‘Present Company’. The album however did not fare well.
Following the failure of her album, she moved to California to hone her writing skills. She re-emerged to the music scene three years later in 1974 with the album, ‘Stars’. The album contained the song, ‘Jesse’ which went on to become a Top 30 hit.
1975 proved to be a breakthrough year in her career as it witnessed the release of the album, ‘Between the Lines’. The album surpassed all her previous records to emerge as the most successful album of her career gaining a platinum status at the box office. It reached the number 1 status on Billboard's Album chart
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The single from ‘Between the Lines’, ‘At Seventeen’ became a major hit and received wide critical and commercial acclaim. The song moved up the ladder to retain the number 3 spot at the Billboard Hot 100.
On the Adult Contemporary chart, ‘At Seventeen’ peaked at the number 1 status. The song even won her, her first Grammy Award. The same year, she performed the song on the debut of Saturday Night Live as a musical guest.
She immediately followed this up by releasing two more albums subsequently -‘Aftertones’ in 1976 and ‘Miracle Row’ in 1977. The albums though successful did not recreate the meteoric rise of her previous album.
While ‘Aftertones’ reached the number 12 status on US Billboard charts, ‘Miracle Row’ was placed at number 45. However in Japan, the albums fared much better. ‘Aftertones’ reached the number 1 status on Oricon's album chart, with its single ‘Love Is Blind’ being a blockbuster
In 1977, she came up with an anecdotal ‘On Valentine’s Day’ which again was very well received by the public and the critics alike.
In 1979, she came up with the single, ‘Fly Too High’. Produced by Giorgio Moroder, the song was featured in the Jodie Foster movie ‘Foxes’. It later became a part of her next released album, ‘Night Rains’. The song was much appreciated and even earned her a Grammy nomination
In 1980, she released the song, ‘You Are Love’ which went on to become a top 10 single on the Japanese Oricon charts. It was used as a theme song in Kinji Fukasaku's 1980 movie ‘Virus’
In 1981, she came up with her next album, ‘Restless Eyes’. Though the album received critical acclaim, it did not get commercial success. The same year, she came up with the single, ‘Under the Covers’ which reached the number 71 status at the pop charts.
Beginning 1982, she slowed down with her music albums and instead started concentrating on writing songs. She collaborated with various other artists like Kye Fleming, Amy Grant, Bette Midler and Marti Jones. She even pursued a career in acting and for the same took acting classes from Stella Adler.
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In 1993, she re-emerged on the music scene with her album, ‘Breaking Silence’, which went on to make her one of the first ‘indie artists’. The album contained the title song about incest. The same year, she made an appearance in The Howard Stern Show, performing a newer version of the track ‘At Seventeen’.
Two years later, she came up with the album, ‘Revenge’ which explored the themes of prostitution and homelessness. She followed this up with the 1997 released album, ‘Hunger’ and 2000 released album ‘God & the FBI’.
‘Folk Is the New Black’ is her latest album released in 2006. The album was released jointly by the Rude Girl and Cooking Vinyl labels. For the album, she did the songwriting on her own, a feat she achieved after 20 years.
She has not limited her artistic abilities to songwriting and singing alone and has ventured into the arena of writing as well. A huge fan of science fiction, most of her works revolve around the same. Her short stories have been published in anthologies.
In 2003, along with Mike Resnick, she co-edited the anthology, ‘Stars: Original Stories Based on the Songs of Janis Ian’. From 1995 to 2003, she contributed a column in the magazine, Performing Songwriter. Furthermore, she contributes regularly for the LGBT news magazine, The Advocate.
In 2008, she penned and published her autobiography, ‘Society’s Child’. The book received much critical acclaim. The pack contained an Autobiographical CD as well which comprised of many of her hit and popular tracks.