Now in her fifth decade of writing songs and performing, Janis Ian has won three Grammy Awards, with 10 nominations in 8 different categories. Her most recent Grammy (Best Spoken Word) was for her self-narrated autobiography, "Society's Child”. She had stiff competition -- President Bill Clinton, First Lady Michelle Obama, Rachel Maddow and Ellen DeGeneres. When she won, she
said "This is quite a stunning upset. There must be a joke in here. An ex-president, a First Lady and three lesbians go into a bar..."
On a more serious note, she said, "We artists are the last alchemists, pulling your dreams, your hopes, your deepest desires out of thin air, and turning them into something you can hear, and play, and sing... so remember this. We don't sell music. We sell dreams."
Ian began her professional life at 12, when she wrote her first song and was published by Broadside Magazine. At 14, she wrote "Society's Child,” banned throughout the United States for its controversial subject matter, a black boy dating a white girl. On discovering the ban, Leonard Bernstein featured Janis in one of his first prime-time television specials. The next day, radio stations all over the country apologized, and a career was born.
In 1975 “At Seventeen”, along with the album Between the Lines, earned five Grammy nominations and two wins. The song has since joined “Society’s Child” in the Grammy Hall of Fame. “Love Is Blind” then went double-platinum in Japan, where Janis still holds the record for most consecutive weeks in the top ten (over 60 weeks at #1!). Shortly after, the Giorgio Morder-produced “Fly Too High” gave her platinum records all over Europe, Australia, even Africa.
After more than a decade of constant touring, she took a hiatus. “I studied theater with Stella Adler, which put me back on track as a writer, and a human being. Got divorced, moved to Nashville with three guitars, my 10-year-old car, and five pieces of furniture, and started again. It was the making of me.”
Holding her head high despite an abusive and broken marriage, devastating financial crisis (her accountant of twenty years “went rogue”), and near fatal health issues, she returned to recording in 1993 with “Breaking Silence” and received her eighth Grammy nomination.
Janis served as a "resident iconoclast" journalist for The Advocate for eight years, and Performing Songwriter for a decade. Years before the music industry accepted it, Ian insisted downloading was the future and, indeed, would save the industry. Her article "The Internet Debacle: An Alternative View" (available on her website) has been posted on over 5,000 websites, quoted in USA Today, translated into eleven languages, used as evidence in the Napster and Grokster cases, and featured by BBC-TV.
Her "Stars: The Anthology" book brought together thirty top science fiction writers using her songs as a backdrop for their imaginations. Awards were numerous, including recognition of a story she wrote specifically for the anthology, “Second Person Unmasked”. Says Janis, “It was my first short story. I’ve had nine published since, so I guess I’m getting better at it.”
She expanded her literary horizons with a children’s book, “The Tiny Mouse” (Lemniscaat ). The book was illustrated by multi-award-winning Dieter & Ingrid Schubert (the first time they ever illustrated anyone else’s words!), and includes a CD so children can sing along.
Always one to follow her heart and her beliefs, Janis was one of the first celebrities to come out publicly. She and her partner had already been together some fourteen years when they were formally married in Canada in 2003.
Janis also runs The Pearl Foundation, named in honor of her mother, who went to college in her forties. To date, the Foundation has donated more than $980,000.00 in funds for returning students. "Our annual operating costs have never exceeded $2,500", she says, "and that's the cost of researching and doing taxes. My wife and I cover everything else, or it's donated." Funds are raised from the sale of Janis Ian merchandise, donations, and living room concerts. You can read more about it at http://thepearlfoundation.org