That voice - high, husky, earthy, explosive - remains among the most distinctive and galvanizing in pop history. But Janis Joplin didn't merely possess a great instrument; she threw herself into every syllable, testifying from the very core of her being.
She claimed the blues, soul, gospel, country and rock with unquestionable authority and verve, fearlessly inhabiting psychedelic guitar jams, back-porch roots and everything in between. Her volcanic performances left audiences stunned and speechless, while her flamboyant style shattered every stereotype about female artists.
In 1966 she joined the psychedelic-rock band Big Brother and the Holding Company. The band’s ‘Piece of My Heart’ on 1968's Cheap Thrills LP, shot to the No. 1 spot, the album sold a million copies in a month, and Joplin became a sensation - earning rapturous praise from Time and Vogue, and capturing the imagination of audiences that had never experienced such fiery intensity in a female rock singer. Her departure from Big Brother and emergence as a solo star were inevitable; she put together her own outfit, the Kozmic Blues Band, and in 1969 released ‘I Got Dem Ol' Kozmic Blues Again Mama!’, which went gold.
Joplin assembled a new backup group, the Full Tilt Boogie Band, in 1970. Her musical evolution followed the earthier, rootsier direction of the new decade, as reflected in her final studio album, the landmark ‘Pearl’ – an album which showcased Joplin's mastery of virtually all pop genres. She died in October of 1970, and ‘Pearl’was released posthumously the following year. The quadruple-platinum album became the top-selling release of Joplin's career.
In the years since, Janis Joplin's recordings and filmed performances have cemented her status as an icon, inspiring countless imitators and musical devotees. Joplin was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995 and posthumously given a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005. But such honours only made official what rock fans already knew: that she was among the greatest, most powerful singers the form had ever known - and that she'd opened the door for countless artists across the musical spectrum.