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Janis Ian

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Janis Ian (b. 1951) is a U.S. songwriter, singer, musician, columnist, and science fiction author. Her singing career was at its height in the 1960s and 1970s, and she has continued recording into the twenty-first century. In 1975 Ian won a Grammy Award for her song, “At Seventeen”.

Born Janis Eddy Fink on 7th April 1951 to a Jewish family in New York City, she was primarily raised in New Jersey, initially on a farm, and attended East Orange High School and the New York City High School of Music & Art. Her parents, Victor (a music teacher) and Pearl, ran a summer camp in upstate New York, and, in that Cold War era, were frequently under government surveillance because of their left-wing politics. (Ian alluded to these years later in her song “God and the FBI”). Young Janis admired the work of folk pioneers such as Joan Baez and Odetta. At the age of twelve, Ian wrote her first song, “Hair of Spun Gold”, which was subsequently published in the folk publication Broadside and was later recorded for her debut album.

At the age of thirteen she legally changed her name to Janis Ian, using as her new last name her brother Eric’s middle name. Also in that year, Ian wrote and sang her first hit single, “Society’s Child (Baby I’ve Been Thinking)”, about an interracial romance forbidden by a girl’s mother and frowned upon by her peers and teachers; the girl ultimately decides to end the relationship, claiming the social norms of the day have left her no other choice.

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