Janis Joplin was born in Port Arthur, Texas, on January 19, 1943 to Dorothy (née East) Joplin (1913–1998), a registrar at a business college, and her husband, Seth Joplin (1910–1987), an engineer at Texaco. She had two younger siblings, Michael and Laura. The family attended the Church of Christ. The Joplins felt that Janis always needed more attention than their other children, with her mother stating, "She was unhappy and unsatisfied without . The normal rapport wasn't adequate.
As a teenager, she befriended a group of outcasts, one of whom had albums by African-American blues artists Bessie Smith and Leadbelly, whom Joplin later credited with influencing her decision to become a singer. She began singing in the local choir and expanded her listening to blues singers such as Odetta and Big Mama Thornton.
Primarily a painter while still in school, she first began singing blues and folk music with friends. While at Thomas Jefferson High School, she stated that she was mostly shunned. Joplin was quoted as saying, "I was a misfit. I read, I painted, I didn't hate niggers." As a teen, she became overweight and her skin broke out so badly she was left with deep scars which required dermabrasion. Other kids at high school would routinely taunt her and call her names like "pig," "freak" or "creep." Among her classmates were G. W. Bailey and Jimmy Johnson.
Joplin graduated from high school in 1960 and attended Lamar State College of Technology in Beaumont, Texas, during the summer and later the University of Texas at Austin, though she did not complete her studies. The campus newspaper The Daily Texan ran a profile of her in the issue dated July 27, 1962 headlined "She Dares To Be Different." The article began, "She goes barefooted when she feels like it, wears Levi's to class because they're more comfortable, and carries her Autoharp with her everywhere she goes so that in case she gets the urge to break into song it will be handy. Her name is Janis Joplin."
Cultivating a rebellious manner, Joplin styled herself in part after her female blues heroines and, in part, after the Beat poets. Her first song recorded on tape, at the home of a fellow student in December 1962, was "What Good Can Drinkin' Do". She left Texas for San Francisco ("just to get away from Texas," she said, "because my head was in a much different place") in January 1963, living in North Beach and later Haight-Ashbury. In 1964, Joplin and future Jefferson Airplane guitarist Jorma Kaukonen recorded a number of blues standards, further accompanied by Margareta Kaukonen on typewriter (as percussion instrument). This session included seven tracks: "Typewriter Talk," "Trouble In Mind," "Kansas City Blues," "Hesitation Blues", "Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out", "Daddy, Daddy, Daddy" and "Long Black Train Blues," and was later released as the bootleg album The Typewriter Tape.
Around this time her drug use increased, and she acquired a reputation as a "speed freak" and occasional heroin user. She also used other psychoactive drugs and was a heavy drinker throughout her career; her favorite beverage was Southern Comfort.
In the spring of 1965, Joplin's friends, noticing the physical effects of her amphetamine habit (she was described as "skeletal" and "emaciated"), persuaded her to return to Port Arthur, Texas. In May 1965, Joplin's friends threw her a bus-fare party so she could return home. Back in Port Arthur, she changed her lifestyle. She avoided drugs and alcohol, began wearing relatively modest dresses, adopted a beehive hairdo, and enrolled as a sociology major at Lamar University in nearby Beaumont, Texas. During her year at Lamar University, she commuted to Austin to perform solo, accompanying herself on guitar. One of her performances was reviewed in the Austin American-Statesman. Joplin became engaged to a man who visited her, wearing a blue serge suit, to ask her father for her hand in marriage, but the man terminated plans for the marriage soon afterwards.
Just prior to joining Big Brother and the Holding Company, Joplin recorded seven studio tracks in the year 1965. Among the songs she recorded was her original composition for her song Turtle Blues and an alternate version of Cod'ine by Buffy Sainte-Marie. These tracks were later issued as a new album in 1995, titled This Is Janis Joplin 1965 by James Gurley.
In 1966, Joplin's bluesy vocal style attracted the attention of the psychedelic rock band Big Brother and the Holding Company, a band that had gained some renown among the nascent hippie community in Haight-Ashbury. She was recruited to join the group by Chet Helms, a promoter who had known her in Texas and who at the time was managing Big Brother. Helms brought her back to San Francisco and Joplin joined Big Brother on June 4, 1966. Her first public performance with them was at the Avalon Ballroom in San Francisco. In June she was photographed at an outdoor concert that celebrated the summer solstice.
The image, which was later published in two books by David Dalton, shows her before she relapsed into drugs. Due to persistent persuading by keyboardist and close friend Stephen Ryder, Joplin avoided drug use for several weeks, enjoining bandmate Dave Getz to promise that using needles would not be allowed in their rehearsal space or in her apartment or in the homes of her bandmates whom she visited. When a visitor injected drugs in front of Joplin and Getz, Joplin angrily reminded Getz that he had broken his promise. A San Francisco concert from that summer was recorded and released in the 1984 album Cheaper Thrills. In July all five bandmates and guitarist James Gurley's wife Nancy moved to a house in Lagunitas, California where they lived communally. They often partied with the Grateful Dead, who lived less than two miles away.
On August 23, 1966, during a four week engagement in Chicago, the group signed a deal with independent label Mainstream Records. Joplin relapsed into drinking when she and her bandmates (except for Peter Albin) joined some "alcoholic hipsters," as Joplin biographer Ellis Amburn described them, in Chicago. The band recorded tracks in a Chicago recording studio, but the label owner Bob Shad refused to pay their airfare back to San Francisco. Shortly after four of the five musicians drove from Chicago to Northern California with very little money (Albin traveled by plane), they returned to Lagunitas. It was there that Joplin relapsed into intravenous drug use with the encouragement of James' wife Nancy Gurley. Three years later Joplin, by then using a different band, was informed of Nancy's death from an overdose.
One of Joplin's earliest major performances in 1967 was the Mantra-Rock Dance, a musical event held on January 29 at the Avalon Ballroom by the San Francisco Hare Krishna temple. Janis Joplin and Big Brother performed there along with the Hare Krishna founder Bhaktivedanta Swami, Allen Ginsberg, Moby Grape, and Grateful Dead, donating proceeds to the Krishna temple.
In early 1967, Joplin met Country Joe McDonald of the group Country Joe and the Fish. The pair lived together as a couple for a few months. Joplin and Big Brother began playing clubs in San Francisco, at the Fillmore West, Winterland and the Avalon Ballroom. They also played at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles, as well as in Seattle, Washington and Vancouver, British Columbia, the Psychedelic Supermarket in Boston, Massachusetts, and the Golden Bear Club in Huntington Beach, California.
The band's debut album was released by Columbia Records in August 1967, shortly after the group's breakthrough appearance in June at the Monterey Pop Festival. Two songs from Big Brother's set at Monterey were filmed. "Combination of the Two" and a version of Big Mama Thornton's "Ball and Chain" appear in the DVD box set of D.A. Pennebaker's documentary Monterey Pop released by The Criterion Collection. The film captured Cass Elliot, singer in The Mamas and the Papas, seated in the audience silently mouthing "Wow! That's really heavy!" during Joplin's performance of "Ball and Chain". Only "Ball and Chain" was included in the film that was released to theaters nationwide in 1969 and shown on television in the 1970s. Those who did not attend Monterey Pop saw the band's performance of "Combination of the Two" for the first time in 2002 when The Criterion Collection released the box set.
After switching managers from Chet Helms to Julius Karpen in 1966, the group signed with top artist manager Albert Grossman, whom they met for the first time at Monterey Pop. For the remainder of 1967, Big Brother performed mainly in California. On February 16, 1968, the group began its first East Coast tour in Philadelphia, and the following day gave their first performance in New York City at the Anderson Theater. On April 7, 1968, the last day of their East Coast tour, Joplin and Big Brother performed with Jimi Hendrix, Buddy Guy, Joni Mitchell, Richie Havens, Paul Butterfield, and Elvin Bishop at the "Wake for Martin Luther King, Jr." concert in New York.
Live at Winterland '68, recorded at the Winterland Ballroom on April 12 and 13, 1968, features Joplin and Big Brother and the Holding Company at the height of their mutual career working through a selection of tracks from their albums. A recording became available to the public for the first time in 1998 when Sony Music Entertainment released the compact disc.
During the spring of 1968, Joplin and Big Brother made their nationwide television debut on The Dick Cavett Show, an ABC daytime variety show hosted by Dick Cavett. Shortly thereafter, network employees wiped the videotape. Over the next two years, she made three appearances on the primetime Cavett program, and all were preserved. By 1968, the band was being billed as "Janis Joplin and Big Brother and the Holding Company,", and the media coverage given to Joplin incurred resentment among the other members of the band. The other members of Big Brother thought that Joplin was on a "star trip," while others were telling Joplin that Big Brother was a terrible band and that she ought to dump them.
TIME magazine called Joplin "probably the most powerful singer to emerge from the white rock movement," and Richard Goldstein wrote for the May 1968 issue of Vogue magazine that Joplin was "the most staggering leading woman in rock... she slinks like tar, scowls like war... clutching the knees of a final stanza, begging it not to leave... Janis Joplin can sing the chic off any listener.
For her first major studio recording, Janis played a major role in the arrangement and production of the recordings that would become Big Brother And The Holding Company's second album, Cheap Thrills. During the recording, Joplin was said to be the first person to enter the studio and the last person to leave. The album featured a cover design by counterculture cartoonist Robert Crumb. Although Cheap Thrills sounded as if it consisted of concert recordings, only "Ball and Chain" was actually recorded in front of a paying audience; the rest of the tracks were studio recordings. The album had a raw quality, including the sound of a cocktail glass breaking and the broken shards being swept away during the song "Turtle Blues". Together with the premiere of the documentary film Monterey Pop at New York's Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts on December 26, 1968, the album launched Joplin's successful, albeit short, musical career.
Cheap Thrills reached #1 on the Billboard 200 album chart eight weeks after its release, remaining for eight (nonconsecutive) weeks. The album was certified gold at release and sold over a million copies in the first month of its release. The lead single from the album, "Piece of My Heart" reached #12 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the fall of 1968.
The band made another East Coast tour during July–August 1968, performing at the Columbia Records convention in Puerto Rico and the Newport Folk Festival. After returning to San Francisco for two hometown shows at the Palace of Fine Arts Festival on August 31 and September 1, Joplin announced that she would be leaving Big Brother. On September 14, 1968, culminating a three-night final gig together at Fillmore West, fans thronged to honor and exult in the last official night of Janis Joplin with Big Brother and the Holding Company. The lead-in groups for this heady night were Chicago (then still called Chicago Transit Authority) and Santana. Janis gave one last performance with Big Brother at a Family Dog benefit on December 1, 1968.
After splitting from Big Brother And The Holding Company, Joplin formed a new backup group, the Kozmic Blues Band. The band was influenced by the Stax-Volt Rhythm and Blues bands of the 1960s, as exemplified by Otis Redding and the Bar-Kays. The Stax-Volt R&B sound was typified by the use of horns and had a more bluesy, funky, soul, pop-oriented sound than most of the hard-rock psychedelic bands of the period.
By early 1969, Joplin was allegedly shooting at least $200 worth of heroin per day, although efforts were made to keep her clean during the recording of I Got Dem Ol' Kozmic Blues Again Mama!. Gabriel Mekler, who produced the Kozmic Blues, told publicist-turned-biographer Myra Friedman after Joplin's death that the singer had lived in his house during the June 1969 recording sessions at his insistence so he could keep her away from drugs and her drug-using friends.
The Kozmic Blues Band performed on many television shows with Joplin. On one episode of The Dick Cavett Show they performed "Try (Just A Little Bit Harder)" as well as "To Love Somebody". As Cavett interviewed Joplin, she admitted that she had a terrible time touring in Europe, claiming that audiences there are very uptight and don't get down. She also revealed that she was a big fan of the then unknown Tina Turner, saying that she was an incredible singer, dancer and show woman.
The Kozmic Blues album, released in September 1969, was certified gold later that year but did not match the success of Cheap Thrills. Reviews of the new group were mixed. Some music critics, including Ralph J. Gleason of the San Francisco Chronicle, were negative. Gleason wrote that the new band was a "drag" and that Joplin should "scrap" her new band and "go right back to being a member of Big Brother...(if they'll have her)." Other reviewers, such as reporter Carl Bernstein of the Washington Post generally ignored the band's flaws and devoted entire articles to celebrating the singer's magic. I Got Dem Ol' Kozmic Blues Again Mama! reached #6 on the Billboard 200 weeks after it's release.
Joplin and the Kozmic Blues Band toured North America and Europe throughout 1969, appearing at Woodstock in the early morning hours of Sunday, August 17. Her friend Peggy Caserta claimed in a 1973 book that she encouraged Joplin to perform at the festival. Joplin informed her band that they would be performing at the concert as if it were just another gig. When she and the band flew by helicopter from a nearby motel to the festival site and Joplin saw the enormous crowd she instantly became incredibly nervous and giddy. The documentary film of the festival that was released to theaters the following year includes, on the left side of a split screen (filmmaking), 37 seconds of footage of Joplin and Caserta walking toward her dressing room tent. By most accounts, Woodstock was not a happy affair for Joplin. Faced with a ten hour wait after arriving at the backstage area, she shot heroin with Caserta and was drinking alcohol, so by the time she hit the stage, she was "three sheets to the wind." On stage her voice became slightly hoarse and wheezy and she found it hard to dance. She pulled through, however, and the audience was so pleased they cheered her on for an encore, causing her to perform Ball and Chain twice. Joplin was unhappy with her performance and blamed Caserta. Her singing was not included in the documentary film or the hit soundtrack, although the 25th anniversary director's cut of Woodstock includes her performance of "Work Me, Lord".
In addition to Woodstock, Joplin also had problems four months later at Madison Square Garden where she was joined on stage by special guests Johnny Winter and Paul Butterfield. She told rock journalist David Dalton, the audience watched and listened to "every note [she sang] with 'Is she gonna make it?' in their eyes. In her interview with Dalton she added that she felt most comfortable performing at small, cheap venues in San Francisco that were associated with the counterculture. At the time of this June 1970 interview she already had performed in the Bay Area for what turned out to be the last time.
Sam Andrew, the lead guitarist who had left Big Brother with Joplin in December 1968 to form her back-up band, quit in late summer 1969 and returned to Big Brother without her. At the end of the year, the Kozmic Blues Band broke up. Their final gig with Joplin was at Madison Square Garden in New York City on the night of December 19–20, 1969.
In February 1970, Joplin traveled to Brazil, where she stopped her drug and alcohol use. She was accompanied on vacation there by her friend Linda Gravenites, who had designed the singer's stage costumes from 1967 to 1969. Joplin was romanced by a fellow American tourist named David (George) Niehaus, who was traveling around the world. A Joplin biography written by her sister Laura said, "David was an upper-middle-class Cincinnati kid who had studied communications at Notre Dame. ... [and] had joined the Peace Corps after college and worked in a small village in Turkey. ... He tried law school, but when he met Janis he was taking time off." Niehaus and Joplin were photographed by the press at Rio Carnival in Rio de Janeiro. Gravenites also took color photographs of the two during their Brazilian vacation. According to Joplin biographer Ellis Amburn, in Gravenites' snapshots they "look like a carefree, happy, healthy young couple having a tremendously good time." Rolling Stone magazine interviewed Joplin during an international phone call, quoting her, "I'm going into the jungle with a big bear of a beatnik named David Niehaus. I finally remembered I don't have to be on stage twelve months a year. I've decided to go and dig some other jungles for a couple of weeks." Amburn added in 1992, "Janis was trying to kick heroin in Brazil, and one of the nicest things about George was that he wasn't into drugs.
Joplin began using heroin again when she returned to the United States. Her relationship with Niehaus soon ended because of his witnessing her shooting drugs at her new home in Larkspur, California, her romantic relationship with Peggy Caserta, who also was an intravenous addict, and her refusal to take some time off work and travel the world with him. Around this time she formed her new band, the Full Tilt Boogie Band. The band was composed mostly of young Canadian musicians and featured an organ, but no horn section. Joplin took a more active role in putting together the Full Tilt Boogie Band than she did with her prior group. She was quoted as saying, "It's my band. Finally it's my band!"
The Full Tilt Boogie Band began touring in May 1970. Joplin remained quite happy with her new group, which received mostly positive feedback from both her fans and the critics. Prior to beginning a summer tour with Full Tilt Boogie, she performed in a reunion with Big Brother at the Fillmore West in San Francisco on April 4, 1970. Recordings from this concert were included in an in-concert album released posthumously in 1972. She again appeared with Big Brother on April 12 at Winterland where she and Big Brother were reported to be in excellent form. By the time she began touring with Full Tilt Boogie, Joplin told people she was drug-free, but her drinking increased.
From June 28 to July 4, 1970, Joplin and Full Tilt joined the all-star Festival Express tour through Canada, performing alongside the Grateful Dead, Delaney and Bonnie, Rick Danko and The Band, Eric Andersen and Ian and Sylvia. They played concerts in Toronto, Winnipeg and Calgary. Footage of her performance of the song Tell Mama in Calgary became an MTV video in the early 1980s and was included on the 1982 Farewell Song album. The audio of other Festival Express performances was included on that 1972 Joplin In Concert album. Video of the performances was included on the Festival Express DVD.
In the Tell Mama video shown on MTV in the 1980s, Joplin wore a psychedelically colored loose-fitting costume and feathers in her hair. This was her standard stage costume in the spring and summer of 1970. She chose the new costumes after her friend and designer, Linda Gravenites (whom Joplin had praised in the May 1968 issue of Vogue), cut ties with Joplin shortly after their return from Brazil, due largely to Joplin's continued use of heroin.
During the Festival Express tour, Joplin was accompanied by Rolling Stone writer David Dalton, who would later write several articles and a book on Joplin. She told Dalton:
I'm a victim of my own insides. There was a time when I wanted to know everything ... It used to make me very unhappy, all that feeling. I just didn't know what to do with it. But now I've learned to make that feeling work for me. I'm full of emotion and I want a release, and if you're on stage and if it's really working and you've got the audience with you, it's a oneness you feel.
Joplin attended the reunion on August 14, accompanied by fellow musician and friend Bob Neuwirth, road manager John Cooke, and her sister Laura, but it reportedly proved to be an unhappy experience for her. Joplin held a press conference in Port Arthur during her reunion visit. Interviewed by Rolling Stone journalist Chet Flippo, she was reported to wear enough jewelry for a "Babylonian whore." When asked by a reporter during the reunion if Joplin entertained at Thomas Jefferson High School when she was a student there, Joplin replied, "Only when I walked down the aisles." Joplin denigrated Port Arthur and the people who'd humiliated her a decade earlier in high school.
Joplin's last public performance, with the Full Tilt Boogie Band, took place on August 12, 1970, at the Harvard Stadium in Boston, Massachusetts. A positive review appeared on the front page of The Harvard Crimson newspaper despite the facts that Full Tilt Boogie performed with makeshift sound amplifiers after their regular equipment was stolen in Boston and Joplin was reportedly so intoxicated when she took the stage, she was only able to perform two songs.
During late August, September and early October 1970, Joplin and her band rehearsed and recorded a new album in Los Angeles with producer Paul A. Rothchild, who had produced recordings for The Doors. Although Joplin died before all the tracks were fully completed, there was still enough usable material to compile a long-playing record.
The result of the sessions was the posthumously released Pearl (1971). It became the biggest selling album of her career and featured her biggest hit single, a cover of Kris Kristofferson's Me and Bobby McGee. Kristofferson had been Joplin's lover in the spring of 1970. The opening track Move Over was written by Joplin, reflecting the way that she felt men treated women. Also included was the social commentary of the a cappella Mercedes Benz, written by Joplin, Bob Neuwirth and beat poet Michael McClure. The track on the album features the first and only take that Joplin recorded. The track Buried Alive In The Blues, to which Joplin had been scheduled to add her vocals on the day she was found dead, was included as an instrumental. In 2003, Pearl was ranked #122 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
Joplin checked into the Landmark Motor Hotel on August 24, 1970, which was located in Hollywood Heights near Sunset Sound Recorders where she began rehearsing and recording her album. During the sessions, Joplin continued a relationship with Seth Morgan, a 21-year-old UC Berkeley student, cocaine dealer and future novelist who had visited her new home in Larkspur, California several times in July and August. She and Morgan became engaged to be married in early September even though he visited Sunset Sound Recorders for just eight of the many sessions when Joplin worked, much to her dismay. Much later Morgan told biographer Myra Friedman that as a non-musician he felt excluded while in the studio. He stayed at Joplin's Larkspur home for days at a time while Joplin stayed alone at the Landmark, although several times she visited Larkspur to be with him and to check the progress of renovations she was having done on the house.
Peggy Caserta claimed in her 1973 book Going Down With Janis that she and Joplin had decided mutually in April 1970 to stay away from each other to avoid enabling each other's drug use. Caserta, a former Delta Airlines stewardess and owner of a clothing boutique in the Haight Ashbury, said that by September 1970 she had resorted to smuggling marijuana throughout California and she checked into the Landmark that month because it attracted drug users. Joplin learned of Caserta's presence in Los Angeles and staying at the same hotel from a heroin dealer who made deliveries to the Landmark. Joplin begged Caserta for heroin and within a few days became a regular customer of that heroin dealer.
Joplin's manager Albert Grossman and his assistant Myra Friedman had taken part in an intervention with Joplin the previous winter. While they worked at Grossman's New York office during the Pearl sessions, they knew Joplin was staying at a Los Angeles hotel but did not know it attracted drug users and dealers.
The last recordings Joplin completed were on October 1, 1970 — Mercedes Benz and a birthday greeting for John Lennon, the Dale Evans Happy Trails. Lennon, whose birthday was October 9, later told Dick Cavett that her taped greeting arrived at his home after her death. On Saturday, October 3, Joplin visited Sunset Sound Recorders in Los Angeles to listen to the instrumental track for Nick Gravenites' song Buried Alive in the Blues prior to recording the vocal track, scheduled for the next day. At some point on Saturday, she learned by telephone that Seth Morgan was staying at her home and using her pool table with other women he had met that day. In the studio she was heard expressing anger about this and about Morgan having broken a promise to visit her the previous night, although she also expressed joy about the progress of the sessions. She and band member Ken Pearson went from the studio to Barney's Beanery for drinks. After midnight, Joplin drove him and a male fan who tagged along to the Landmark Motor Hotel.
When Joplin failed to show up at Sunset Sound Recorders for the next recording session by Sunday afternoon, producer Paul A. Rothchild became concerned. Full Tilt Boogie's road manager, John Cooke, drove to the Landmark. He saw Joplin's psychedelically painted Porsche 356C Cabriolet in the parking lot. Upon entering her room, he found her dead on the floor beside her bed. The official cause of death was an overdose of heroin, possibly combined with the effects of alcohol. Cooke believes that Joplin had accidentally been given heroin which was much more potent than normal, as several of her dealer's other customers also overdosed that week. Peggy Caserta admitted that, like Seth Morgan, she, too, had promised to visit Joplin at the Landmark on Friday night, October 2 and had stood her up in order to party with drug users who were staying at another Los Angeles hotel. According to Going Down With Janis, Caserta learned from the dealer who sold heroin to her and Joplin that on Saturday Joplin expressed sadness about two friends having abandoned her the previous night.
Joplin was cremated in the Pierce Brothers Westwood Village Mortuary in Los Angeles; her ashes were scattered from a plane into the Pacific Ocean and along Stinson Beach. The only funeral service was a private affair held at Pierce Brothers and attended by Joplin's parents and maternal aunt.
Joplin's will funded $2,500 to throw a wake party in the event of her demise. Around 200 guests received invitations to the party that read, “Drinks are on Pearl,” a reference to Joplin’s nickname. The party, which took place October 26, 1970, at the Lion's Share, located in San Anselmo, California, was attended by Joplin's sister Laura, fiancé, Seth Morgan and close friends, including tattoo artist Lyle Tuttle, Bob Gordon, and road manager John Cooke. Hash brownies were passed around.
Janis Joplin (19 de enero de 1943, Port Arthur, Texas – 4 de octubre de 1970, Los Ángeles, California) fue una cantante estadounidense de rock and roll y blues caracterizada por su voz y su espíritu rebelde. Su nombre completo es Janis Lyn Joplin.
Fue un símbolo femenino de la contracultura de los 60 y el movimiento Hippie y la primera mujer en ser considerada una gran estrella del Rock and Roll. En 1995 ingresó al Salón de la Fama del Rock. En el 2004 la revista Rolling Stone la colocó en el lugar 46 de los 100 mejores artistas más grandes de todos los tiempos. En el 2008 la colocó en el lugar 28 de los mejores 100 cantantes de todos los tiempos.
Nació el 19 de enero de 1943 en Port Arthur, localidad industrial de Texas. Sus padres, Seth (quien trabajaba en una refinería) y Dorothy (que había destacado cantando en su instituto) hubieran querido que Janis fuera maestra. Tenía dos hermanos menores, Michael y Laura.
Janis, en el primer año de instituto, se unió a una pandilla de jóvenes intelectuales (beats o beatniks), por lo que se convirtió en una marginada por sus compañeros de clase, siendo durante esta etapa una persona muy impopular, acusándosela de "amiga de los negros" por rechazar el racismo. A los dieciséis años comenzó a manifestar su amor por la música, frecuentando los bares de Luisiana, donde escuchaba música negra, de blues y jazz y a los diecisiete comenzó a cantar.
Cuando estudiaba Bellas Artes en la Universidad de Texas, comenzó a cantar de forma habitual en bares. Participaba frecuentemente con la Waller Creek Boys. Allí es dónde empezó a ganarse su reputación como fuerte bebedora. En 1963, se trasladó a la ciudad de San Francisco dónde empezó a ser conocida. Estando allí conoció a muchos músicos con los que más tarde se reencontraría, como su amante Ron "Pigpen" McKernan" (después, miembro de The Grateful Dead) y grabó un disco casero con Jorma Kaukonen (futuro guitarrista de Jefferson Airplane) y Margareta Kaukonen en la máquina de escribir (como instrumento de percusión). Fue en este periodo cuando comenzó el contacto con la droga y se sumió en un estado de abandono, llegando a pesar 35 kilos. En el 1965 anunció entonces a su familia que volvería a sus estudios universitarios, y que se casaría con un hombre que había conocido en San Francisco, conocido como Peter LeBlanc, pero el enlace no tuvo lugar, ya que Peter LeBlanc la abandonó y esto marcaría aún más su inseguridad afectiva y su sentimiento de soledad.
Cansada de esperar a LeBlanc y de ser una chica buena, se fue a San Francisco con Chet Helms, un productor que conoció en Texas. Se unió a la banda Big Brother and the Holding Company el 4 de julio de 1966, logrando una combinación perfecta. Fue Chet Helms el que la llevó a San Francisco con la oferta de que se uniese a ella, ya que Chet Helms era el mánager de la banda, con la que grabaría su primer álbum con discográfica, Big Brother and the Holding Company, que no pasó desapercibido. Joplin amaba la libertad creativa de la escena musical en San Francisco. Solían actuar junto con otros grupos psicodélicos cómo The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Quicksilver Messenger Service y The Charlatans en las famosas salas de danzas Avalon Ballroom, Fillmore East y Fillmore West, o con festivales al aire libre en el Golden Gate Park y en Haight-Ashbury.
Actuó con su banda en el Festival de Monterey de 1967 junto con algunos grandes artistas del momento cómo Jimi Hendrix, The Mamas and The Papas, Jefferson Airplane, Otis Redding y The Who entre otros. La primera actuación de los Big Brother no fue filmada y les pidieron que tocasen al día siguiente, así que tocaron Combination Of The Two, y Janis dejó a la audiencia boquiabierta con una versión del emblemático blues de Big Mama Thornton, «Ball And Chain».
A partir de entonces fueron contratados por el productor de Bob Dylan, Albert Grossman. Joplin eclipsaba a los Big Brother. En la primavera de 1968, se trasladaron a Nueva York para grabar su primer disco. Aquella combinación de música repetitiva, de estilo psicodélico de los 60, con la imponente voz de Joplin, era prodigiosa y Cheap Thrills salió en agosto de 1968. Lanzando a Janis al éxito, a los tres días se hizo disco de oro y en el primer mes se vendieron más de un millón de copias. En el 2003, Cheap Thrills se colocó en el lugar 338 de los 500 mejores álbumes de todos los tiempos.
Las críticas sobre ella fueron muy buenas, y la prensa se empezó a centrar más en ella que en el grupo, todos le decían que ella era demasiado buena para el grupo, había tensión entre ellos a causa del protagonismo de Janis y la fama, y ella quería hacer un estilo más blues y soul, como las cantantes que veneraba, entre ellas Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday o Aretha Franklin, así que después de mucha presión por parte de su manáger, Albert Grossman, se marchó de Big Brother and the Holding Company.
Juntos se pusieron a buscar los mejores músicos del país para crear el nuevo grupo. A principios del 1969 ya estaba creado, aunque los músicos variarían a lo largo del año. Se llevó con ella al guitarrista Sam Andrew de Big Brother and the Holding Company. Con su nueva banda, "Kozmic Blues Band", salió su segundo disco, I Got Dem Ol' Kozmic Blues Again Mama!, que sonaba distinto a lo que sus oyentes estaban acostumbrados: era una mezcla de rock, soul y blues, y recibió malas críticas, la revista Rolling Stone la denominó la "Judy Garland del rock".
En abril, Janis y la Kozmic Blues Band fueron de gira por Europa, pasando por Frankfurt, Estocolmo, París, Londres, y algunos lugares más, donde el público la acogió muy calurosamente y ella regresó a EE.UU. muy contenta, diciendo que el mejor concierto que había dado en su vida fue en Londres, donde la audiencia se volvió loca.
En ese año, a causa de la presión, se enganchó a la heroína y comenzó a prodigarse en entrevistas, en las que terminaba hablando de su vida y de sus sentimientos. Decía que "hacía el amor con 25000 personas en el escenario y luego se volvía a casa sola..." Cada vez dependía más del alcohol y de la heroína pero sin embargo se había convertido en un símbolo de fuerza y de rebeldía para muchas mujeres de su época.
El 16 de agosto de 1969 actuó con enorme éxito en el festival de Woodstock, dónde realizó dos repeticiones de, «Ball And Chain» y Piece of My Heart.
Pero los músicos de la banda eran sólo profesionales, y Janis quería que su banda fuese como una familia, como en Big Brother, y con el único que acabó conectando fue con el saxofonista Cornelius "Snooky" Flowers. A finales del 1969 Janis estaba ya destrozada y demasiado enganchada a la heroína y al alcohol, así que decidió tomarse un descanso y abandonar la banda. A finales de 1969 la banda se separó. Su último concierto fue en el Madison Square Garden en Nueva York en la noche del 19 y 20 de diciembre de 1969.
En febrero de 1970, se fue de viaje con una amiga a Río de Janeiro por carnaval, a desintoxicarse, por lo menos, de la heroína. Una vez allí conoció a David Niehouse y se enamoraron, estuvieron unos meses por la selva de Brasil viajando como dos viejos beatniks en la carretera y al volver a San Francisco, David se instaló en casa de Janis.
Una vez allí, Albert Grossman, le propuso a Janis una nueva banda, la Full Tilt Boogie Band, y Janis, ya desenganchada de la heroína, pero no del alcohol, aceptó. David Niehouse quería seguir viajando por el mundo y le ofreció irse con ella, pero Janis prefirió quedarse con su audiencia y su música. Así, Janis congenió muy bien con todos los miembros de la banda, ellos la querían y ella los quería.
En verano de ese año, Janis y su banda participaron en el Festival Express, junto otros artistas importantes de la época cómo The Grateful Dead, Buddy Guy y The Band.
En una fiesta de los Hell's Angels de San Francisco, ese mismo verano, conoció a Seth Morgan y se enamoró de él. En septiembre de 1970, se trasladó a Los Ángeles a grabar Pearl. El 4 de octubre de 1970 había sido un buen día en el estudio, y para celebrarlo salió de copas con sus compañeros y se emborrachó. Según el estudio forense, murió a la 1:40 por sobredosis de heroína. Janis ya había pasado por experiencias similares y había salido con vida, pero esta vez no había nadie para ayudarla y su cuerpo fue descubierto unas 18 horas después. Todos quedaron sorprendidos, pues pensaron que Janis ya no consumía, y estaba en la mejor época de su vida.
A las seis semanas de su muerte, salió el disco Pearl, en 1971, que fue un éxito y se mantuvo en el número uno de ventas durante 14 semanas. Como homenaje, se dejó el tema «Mercedes Benz» a capella, sin música, ya que fue la última canción que Janis grabó; asimismo, se incluyó la canción «Buried Alive in the Blues» sólo con música, sin la voz de Janis que habría debido cantarla.
Mientras tanto, el sencillo «Me and Bobby McGee», compuesto por Kris Kristofferson (con quien la cantante tuvo un romance) y Fred Foster, representó su mayor éxito, al ser la única canción de Janis Joplin en alcnazar el Nº 1 en el Billboard Hot 100, por una semana en marzo de 1971.
En el 2003, Pearl se colocó en el lugar 122 de los 500 mejores álbumes de todos los tiempos.
Las circunstancias de la muerte de la cantante fueron confusas, y aún hoy en día despierta diversas hipótesis sobre el hecho.
El sábado 3 de octubre de 1970, Joplin visitó el estudio de grabación Sunset Sound Recorders en Los Angeles, para escuchar la parte instrumental de "Buried Alive in the Blues", antes de grabar su pista vocal programada para el día siguiente. En algún momento de ese mismo día, le comunicaron por teléfono que su prometido Seth Morgan estaba en su casa y que estaba jugando con su mesa de billar junto con otras mujeres que conoció ese sábado. En el estudio se escuchó expresar su enojo ante esa noticia, y por no cumplir Morgan con su promesa de visitarla la noche anterior. A pesar de ello, manifestó alegría por el progreso de la grabación.
En la noche, ella y el miembro de la banda Ken Pearson salieron del estudio hacia el bar Barney's Beanery. Después de la medianoche, Joolin los llevó a él y a un fan a sus casas y luego se retiró a su habitación en el Landmark Motor Hotel.
Al día siguiente, el domingo 4 por la tarde, Joplin no apareció en el estudio según lo convenido, por lo que el productor Phil Rothchil comenzó a preocuparse. El adminsitrador y representante de la banda Full Tilt Boogie, John Cooke, decidió visitarla y encontró su auto psicodélico Porsche 356 C descapotable en el parqueo. Al entrar a la habitación, la encontraron muerta y tirada en el suelo, a un lado de su cama, La causa oficial de su muerte fue una sobredosis de heroína, probablemente bajo los efectos del alcohol. Cooke cree que Joplin accidentalmente recibió heroína de una clase más potente que la normal, debido a la sobredosis de otros adictos en esa semana.
El episodio habría ocurrido alrededor de la 1:45 a.m. del día 4 de octubre. Se dice que esto le habría sucedido en otras ocasiones, pero esta vez, no hubo nadie que la ayudara. Algunas circunstancias que rodearon su muerte nunca se explicaron, como la pureza extrema que tenía la droga que la mató y que las jeringas que usó, no se encontraron, especulando que podría haber una persona involucrada. Por lo mismo, los medios de comunicación le dieron un carácter misterioso a la noticia.
Su amiga y amante Peggy Caserta admitió que, al igual que Seth Morgan, también había prometido visitar a Joplin en la histórica noche del viernes 2 de octubre, pero se había ido de fiesta con otros usuarios de drogas que estaban alojados en otro hotel de Los Angeles. De acuerdo con su libro Going Down With Janis, Caserta escuchó del distribuidor que les vendió la heroína a ella y Joplin el sábado, que la artista le expresó su tristeza por dos amigos que la habían abandonado la noche anterior.
La canción "Buried Alive in the Blues" quedó inconclusa con la trágica muerte de la cantante, auqnue fue finalmente incluida como un tema instrumental en Pearl, a manera de un homenaje póstumo.
Joplin fue incinerada en la funeraria Pierce Brothers Westwood Village en Los Ángeles. De allí sus cenizas fueron esparcidas desde un avión en el Océano Pacífico a lo largo de Stinson Beach. El único servicio fúnebre tuvo un carácter privado, ya que sólo asistieron los padres de Joplin y su tía materna.6
Como testamento, Joplin donó $ 2500 para realizar una fiesta en su honor en caso de su desaparición.
Alrededor de 200 personas recibieron invitaciones para la fiesta que decía: "Las bebidas son por Pearl", una referencia al apodo de la cantante.7 El evento, que tuvo lugar el 26 de octubre de 1970, fue en Lion's Share, localizado en San Anselmo, California contó con la presencia de su hermana Laura y amigos cercanos de Joplin, que incluyó a la artista del tatuaje Lyle Tuttle, el prometido de Joplin, Seth Morgan, Bob Gordon, y su manager de gira John Cooke. Se repartieron brownies mezclados con hachís entre los asistentes.8
En este caso, la muerte de Janis Joplin a la edad de veintisiete años ha causado para ser incluido en el llamado Club de los 27.