ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Joan Baez got her first Grammy nomination more than half a century ago in 1962. This year she released her first album in nearly a decade called “Whistle Down The Wind.” And once again, she’s nominated for a Grammy for best folk album. Like her earlier work, these new songs provide a soundtrack for political struggles from civil rights to women’s equality. When I spoke with her back in February, she told me she thinks of this as a bookend to her first album which came out in 1959.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)
BAEZ: The first album had the song “Silver Dagger” on it, this famous, famous old folk song ballad.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “SILVER DAGGER”)
BAEZ: (Singing) And in her right hand a silver dagger.
On this one I asked Josh Ritter if he’d write me a song. And he wrote a song called “Silver Blade.”
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “SILVER BLADE”)
BAEZ: (Singing) I have myself a silver blade. The edge is sharp, the handle bone, a little thing of silver made.
I think in the beginning also there was – I did mostly ballads. And then as the years went by, as in, like, the second and third album, then the political-leaning music came in. And this album now is a combination of those two things, very sparse. We made it in three visits of three days each, which is how I like to work – fast (laughter).
SHAPIRO: Your music was some of the signature protest songs of the 1960s. And in that time, there were songs that everybody sang together at protests, some of them your songs. And today it feels like the protests are as big as they have ever been, but it doesn’t feel like there is a shared soundtrack.
BAEZ: No, I think you’re absolutely right. And in the ’60s and ’70s, we had basically civil rights and Vietnam. It was very clear.
BAEZ: Now every single day, there’s a new issue to try and keep up with and deal with and decide if that’s where you want to put your energy. So it’s baffling, as you know (laughter). And it’s not going to get any simpler. So, yes, we need that anthem. It beats shouting. But in the meantime, it’s better shouting than silence.
SHAPIRO: I wondered about “The President Sang Amazing Grace”…