In her fifth decade of writing songs and performing, Janis Ian won her
second Grammy Award this year for her audiobook Society’s Child. Her
songs have been recorded by singers as diverse as Cher, John
Mellencamp, Celine Dion, Hugh Masekela, Nana Mouskouri, Charlie Daniels
and Roberta Flack.
Ian began her stellar, sometimes stormy, professional life at the age of 12 when she wrote her first song and was published by Broadside Magazine. That led to her first “real” show, at New York’s venerable Village Gate, where she shared a stage with Tom Paxton (with whom she recently toured the East Coast), Lou Gossett Jr., Judy Collins, Phil Ochs, and a host of other singer-songwriters.
At her first headlining show at Greenwich Village’s Gaslight Café at age 15, she was subjected to intimidating boos onstage from racists protesting “Society’s Child.” Ian says of her early career, “I wrote my first song at 12, was published at 13, made a record at 14, had a hit at 15, and was a has-been at 16. So, ‘At Seventeen’ means more to me than you can know.”
“At Seventeen” became her trademark song, and in 1975 she won her first Grammy for it. “At Seventeen” and “Society’s Child” are inductees in the Grammy Hall of Fame.
After a nine-year hiatus during which she studied theater with the legendary Stella Adler, Ian returned to music with “Breaking Silence” and received her eighth Grammy nomination. She is also a prolific writer of prose. Her article, “The Internet Debacle: An Alternative View,” (available on her website) has been posted on more than 1,000 websites, quoted in USA Today, translated into 11 languages, used as evidence in the Napster and Grokster lawsuits, and featured on BBC-TV.
The first book she wrote, Stars: Original Stories Based on the Songs of Janis Ian, received critical and popular praise. With the success of her autobiography (Society’s Child), she is also expanding her literary horizons with a children’s book based on her song “The Tiny Mouse” (Lemniscaat Publishing ) due out in the fall.
Always one to follow her heart and her beliefs, Ian was one of the first celebrities to come out publicly. She and her partner of 23 years were married in Canada in 2003, the only place where gay marriage was legal at the time. She lives in Nashville, Tenn., her home for 25 years, where her own Rude Girl Records label also is based.
In addition to countless honors and awards for her music and literary talents, Ian’s milestones also include performing on the very first broadcast of “Saturday Night Live,” singing for the first Bud Light and Egg McMuffin commercials, and an appearance on the Howard Stern radio show that garnered his highest ratings to that date.
ROBIN BRONK: If you had five minutes in the Oval Office with President Obama what would you discuss with him? What issue would you like him to know about?
JANIS IAN: How has being president agreed with his expectations and not agreed with them?
RB: If you could ask President Obama one question, what would that be?
JI: Are you glad you took the job?
RB: If you were going to send President Obama to one of your favorite places in the United States for one day, where would that be?
JI: My kitchen for dinner, because I cook a great steak and potatoes.
RB: What CD would you recommend that the president add to his collection? Why?
JI: My own audiobook, Society’s Child, of course! I think he and his family would find it relevant.
RB: Would you ever consider a political career?
JI: I already have a political career — I’m a singer-songwriter!
Robin Bronk is CEO of The Creative Coalition — the leading national, nonprofit, nonpartisan public advocacy organization of the entertainment industry. Bronk is a frequent speaker on the role of the entertainment industry in public advocacy campaigns and represents The Creative Coalition and its legislative agenda before members of Congress and the White House. She produced the feature film “Poliwood,” airing on Showtime, and edited the recently published book Art & Soul. Bronk pens this weekly column with assistance from Risa Kotek.