Janis Ian was born April 7, 1951. Ian started playing the piano at age two, but was far from being a child prodigy on that instrument, as she hated scales and studying. She switched to guitar at age ten and wrote her first song, Hair of Spun Gold, at the age of twelve. Her first album, featuring her breakout hit Society’s Child, was recorded for Verve-Folkways in 1965. A haunting melody about a forbidden interracial relationship, Society’s Child ignited controversy from coast to coast, resulting in the burning of a radio station, the firing of disc jockeys who played it, and a generation of searchers finally having a female songwriter to stand beside Bob Dylan.
Ian took a break from music at the age of eighteen, retiring to Philadelphia for three years “to find out if I had it in me to be a good songwriter, or if I should just go to school and become a veterinarian.” She returned with the stunning “Stars” album in 1973, and went on to cover the decade with number one records worldwide. The seminal At Seventeen brought her five Grammy nominations (the most any solo female artist had ever garnered) in 1975, and she was asked to perform the song on the first-ever episode of Saturday Night Live in the fall of that year. Her follow-up to “Between the Lines”, titled “Aftertones”, was #1 in Japan for an astonishing six months, a record still unbroken by a female artist. “Night Rains”, featuring the Giorgio Moroder collaboration “Fly Too High”, went platinum throughout Europe, Africa, and Australia.
In 1983, after ten unbroken years of making records and touring, Ian took an unprecedented nine year hiatus from the music world, studying acting with the legendary Stella Adler and “in general, learning how to be a person”. During that period, she married and divorced, suffered two emergency surgeries, lost all her savings and home to an unscrupulous business manager, and moved to Nashville, TN in 1988 “penniless, in debt, and hungry to write”. She returned to the music business with 1992’s “Breaking Silence”, which immediately garnered her ninth Grammy nomination.
In 2002, Society’s Child was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. In 2008, they inducted At Seventeen. Ian continues to tour worldwide and to record for her own label, Rude Girl Records. She lives in Tennessee with her partner Pat Snyder.
“It was good to start young,” says Ian. “It was good to learn, early on, that what matters is the music. I got most of my big mistakes over with before I was twenty-one. When people say ‘Didn’t you miss having a teenage life?’ I just say ‘I only know the life I lived. I was a teenager, working. A hundred years ago, no one would have thought anything of it. At least I got to do something I loved! I could have been working in a factory, or a day job where every day is the same thing, day in and day out. Instead, I got to deal with everything from doing coke with Jimi Hendrix to death threats. I lived an entire life in my teen years, and I don’t regret a second of it.”