American Masters' Joan Baez: How Sweet the Sound

Sun, 12/13/2009 - 9:00pm - 11:00pm

Photo: Joan Baez

Credit: ©Dana Tynan

The remarkable journey of recording artist and performer Joan Baez.

Joan Baez made her debut appearance at the Newport Folk Festival in 1959. Fifty years later, she returned to that same Rhode Island stage on August 2, marking the festival’s and her 50th anniversaries. She is presently on a worldwide tour in celebration of her 50 years as a performer and in support of her Grammy-nominated CD, Day After Tomorrow.

In the first comprehensive documentary to chronicle the private life and public career of Joan Baez, American Masters examines her history as a recording artist and performer as well as her remarkable journey as the conscience of a generation in Joan Baez: How Sweet the Sound, airing Sunday, December 13 at 9 p.m. on WXXI-TV (DT21.1/cable1011/cable11). The film coincides with the DVD/CD release on October 13th. This DVD/CD will feature the film with bonus content and an audio CD of music from the film. The audio CD contains rare live performances and studio recordings that span Baez’ career.

“From an early age, Joan Baez had the courage of her convictions,” says Susan Lacy, series creator and executive producer of American Masters, a six-time winner of the Emmy Award for Outstanding Primetime Non-Fiction Series. “Her artistry and her commitment to human rights make her a musical and political force as relevant today as when she first started.”

Following Baez on her 2008/2009 world tour, the filmmakers captured her in performance as well as in intimate conversations with individuals whose lives parallel hers. From a stop in Sarajevo, Bosnia, to revisit the scene of the singer’s courageous trip to that war-torn city in the middle of the 1993 siege, to Nashville, Tennessee, where she joined Steve Earle to talk about their collaboration on the 2008 Grammy-nominated album Day After Tomorrow, the film allows viewers an unprecedented level of access to Baez.

Shot in high definition with a natural, filmic look, Baez is also joined onscreen by David Crosby, Bob Dylan, Roger McGuinn, and Reverend Jesse Jackson, among others, to illuminate this extraordinary life. Rich historical footage — Baez’ controversial visit to North Vietnam, where she is seen praying with the residents of Hanoi during the heaviest bombing of the war; Martin Luther King Jr. outside a California prison where he visited Baez to offer his support after she was jailed for staging a protest; Baez at her first Newport Folk Festival in 1959 and as a teenager performing at the historic Club 47 — is woven into the story so viewers can experience scenes from her life that have never been uncovered.

The grit of the film is Baez’ power as a musician — from her tentative teenage years in the Cambridge, Massachusetts, coffee houses to her emergence onto the world stage and the 50-year career that followed. Joan Baez is a musical force of nature, and this film captures her strength as a performer and the influence she has brought to bear on successive generations of artists.

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