Judy Collins – Music Biography

Judy Collins

Judith Marjorie Collins was born May 1, 1939, in Seattle, Washington. The music of Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger and the early sixties folk revival generated her intense interest in folk music and emphasized the importance of lyrics. As a folk artist in her own right, she recorded songs by Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, Phil Ochs, John Lennon, and Randy Newman. Collins’ musical endeavors have ranged from folk to pop-rock to standards to Broadway ballads.

She studied classical piano with Antonia Brico and made her public debut, with the Denver Symphony, playing Mozart’s Concerto for Two Pianos at age 13. Collins, the child prodigy, started playing guitar 3 years after her piano debut.

In 1959, she played in a small club in Colorado, where Bob Dylan came to see her. This gig led to more success and she later migrated to Greenwich Village. In 1961, Eletkra Records signed her, which began a thirty-five year association. Recording her first album, Maid of Constant Sorrow in that same year, this prolific artist has recorded an album almost every year thereafter. In 1966, she received a gold record award for In My Life, the first of many gold and platinum awards.

She started recording her own songs on her 1967 album, Wildflowers. Her first composition was “Since You’ve Asked.” Leonard Cohen had influenced her to write her own music. Her first major hit “Both Sides Now,” included on Wildflowers, was a composition by singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell. This album won a Grammy award and her hit single soared to #8 on Billboard.

The 1967 Oscar nominated documentary Festival included Judy Collins along with Donovan, Baez, Dylan, and others. Collins made the album Who Knows Where the Time Goes in 1968, which Stephen Stills, a member of Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, produced. She is the “Judy” of Stills’ song “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes.”

Collins is multi-talented and uses her varied abilities on albums like Who Knows Where the Time Goes (1968) on which she plays guitar, keyboards, and electric piano. She is also known for producing.

The NY Times once described her voice as “a voice of liquid silver.” Her version of “Send in the Clowns,” a ballad written by Stephen Sondheim for the Broadway musical A Little Night Music, won the 1975 Grammy award for “Song of the Year.” This recording, as well her recording of the gospel hymn “Amazing Grace,” were top 20 hit singles.

Also, in 1975 Collins was nominated for an Oscar for being co-director of Antonia: a Portrait of a Woman, a film about her piano teacher and conductor Antonia Brico. She was a contemporary inductee for the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame in 2006.

Renown for her activism, Collins gave the Baccalaureate address at Hobart and William Smith Colleges May 11, 2002 and she received an honorary degree May 12, 2002. A news release by the same colleges stated that Collins “was selected as the Baccalaureate speaker largely for her activism over the years in the aid of others.” She participated in the 1964 Freedom Marches in Mississippi and was a political activist during the Viet Nam War. In song, she protested against a war she saw thought unjust (Dylan’s “Masters of War”) and she honored those that fought as in her ode to Korean War veterans (“Walls”). Collins always poignantly portrays her cause.

In the fall of 2001 Collins appeared on “Larry King Live” and performed “Amazing Grace” as a tribute to the courageous firefighters and volunteers of 9/11. She has been a representative for UNICEF since 1994 and promotes landmine awareness. She wrote “Song for Sarajevo.” Subsequently, she made goodwill treks to Bosnia and Vietnam.

Collins has influenced music and social awareness for decades and undoubtedly isn’t finished yet.


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