Janis Joplin

301 W Riverside Dr Austin

Austin History Center
Written By Austin History Center

The Austin History Center's mission is to procure, preserve, present and provide the historical records that make up Austin's unique story.

Janis Joplin wandered through life as a lost child until she found herself in Austin, Texas. From there, her career rocketed to the national stage, and she brought Austin with her every step of the way.  

Where did she get her start? Right here in Threadgill's! Threadgill's features live music weekly. New Austin artists just arriving on the scene play their hearts out over entrees like “Texas Caviar” and Chicken-fried steak. 

Ranked among the 100 Greatest Singers of All Time, Janis sang through the whole club circuit of Austin before hitchhiking to San Francisco, where she quickly gained national recognition for her unique style. 

But that isn't really the beginning of Janis Joplin. Her story starts as an overweight and acne-dotted teen in her high school, where the list of cruel nicknames was long. Dubbed a misfit, she joined the club, falling in with a group of outcasts who listened to the blues. Janis let the chords of Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, and Lead Belly reverberate in her heart. 

By the time she entered UT in 1962, Janis had accepted her her own oddity in a way Austin would not neglect, but nourish. 

According to a profile done by campus newspaper "The Daily Texan," she could frequently be found going barefoot, wearing jeans to class (which was unusual for women in the 1960s) and carrying an Autoharp wherever she went. Often she would burst into song. 

But Janis also found drugs. She deteriorated to the point that she hit 88 pounds while addicted to meth. Her concerned friends packed her on a bus and sent her home. There, she began to recover. 

Those alive at the time will remember that it was out of the blues that the rock movement began, and Janis was ready to make the transition. 

Thus the woman "Vogue" would later call “the most staggering leading woman in rock” took to the San Francisco stage with a background in blues and began to sing.

On June 4, 1966, she joined rock band Big Brother. The band did indeed operate like they were her big brothers -- trying repeatedly to keep Janis away from drugs. They released album after album until she went solo. She gave her last performance with them in 1968. 

Her solo career would last two years and include acting as a headliner at Woodstock, before, at the fresh age of 27, Janis once again sent shockwaves through the rock community. But this time it was accompanied by heartache. Janis Joplin died of a heroin overdose on October 4, 1970. 

Although the Joplin was gone, her influence on the music world was immense, inspiring others to keep pushing music forward, mixing genres, and being fearless. 

Cover photo credit oticaeduardo via Instagram.

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