Janis Ian

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Janis Ian
Janis Ian 2.jpg
Ian performing in concert, 1981
Background information
Birth name Janis Eddy Fink
Born (1951-04-07) April 7, 1951 (age 64)
New York City
Genres Folk
Occupation(s) Musician, singer-songwriter, author
Years active 1965–present
Labels Rude Girl
Windham Hill
Website janisian.com

Janis Ian (born Janis Eddy Fink; April 7, 1951) is an American singer-songwriter who was mostly active in the 1960s and 1970s; her most successful song At Seventeen, was released as a single from her 1975 album Between the Lines which reached number 1 on the Billboard chart.

Born in 1951 in New York, Ian entered the American folk music scene while still a teenager in the mid-1960s. Most active musically in that decade and the 1970s, she has continued recording into the 21st century. She has won two Grammy Awards, the first in 1975 for At Seventeen and the second in 2013 for Best Spoken Word Album, for her autobiography, Society's Child (nearly 40 years later).

Ian is also a columnist and science fiction author.[1]

Early life[edit]

Born to an American family in New York City,[2] she was primarily raised in New Jersey, initially on a farm, and attended East Orange High School in East Orange, New Jersey[3] 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. In that Cold War era they were frequently under government surveillance because of their left-wing politics.[citation needed]

As a child, Ian admired the work of folk pioneers such as Joan Baez and Odetta. Starting with piano lessons at the age of six or seven, Ian, by the time she entered her teens, had learned the organ, harpsichord, French horn, flute and guitar.[4] At the age of 12, she 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. In 1964, she legally changed her name to Janis Ian. Her new last name was her brother Eric's middle name.[2]

Music career[edit]

At the age of 13, 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. Produced by George "Shadow" Morton and released three times from 1965 to 1967, "Society's Child" finally became a national hit upon its third release after Leonard Bernstein featured it in a CBS TV special titled Inside Pop: The Rock Revolution.[2]

The song's lyrical content was taboo for some radio stations, [clarification needed] and they withdrew or banned it from their playlists accordingly; in her 2008 autobiography Society's Child, Ian recalls receiving hate mail and death threats as a response to the song, and mentions that a radio station in Atlanta that played it was burned down. In the summer of 1967, "Society's Child" reached #14 on the Billboard Hot 100, the single having sold 600,000 copies, and the album 350,000.[5]

At age 16, Ian met comedian Bill Cosby backstage at Smothers Brothers show where she was promoting Society's Child. Since Ian was underage, she needed to be accompanied while touring by a chaperon. When Cosby met Ian, she had been sleeping with her head on her female chaperon's lap. Cosby allegedly interpreted their interaction as "lesbian", and he allegedly subsequently warned other television shows that Ian was not "suitable family entertainment" and "shouldn't be on television" because of her sexuality, allegedly attempting to blacklist her.[6][7][8]

Ian relates on her website that, although the song was originally intended for Atlantic Records and the label paid for her recording session, the label subsequently returned the master to her and quietly refused to release it.[9] Years later, Ian says, Atlantic's president at the time, Jerry Wexler, publicly apologized to her for this. The single and Ian's 1967 eponymous debut album were finally released on Verve Forecast; her album was also a hit, reaching #29. In 2001, "Society's Child" was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, which honors recordings considered timeless and important to music history. Her early music was compiled on a double CD entitled Society's Child: The Verve Recordings in 1995.

Ian performing at the National Stadium Dublin, Ireland May 14, 1981

"Society's Child" stigmatized Ian as a one-hit wonder until her most successful single in the United States, "At Seventeen", a bittersweet commentary on adolescent cruelty, the illusion of popularity, and teenage angst, as reflected upon from the perspective of a 24-year-old, was released in 1975. "At Seventeen" was a major hit, receiving tremendous acclaim from critics and record buyers alike—it charted at #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 and hit #1 on the Adult Contemporary chart. It won the 1975 Grammy Award for Best Pop Vocal Performance - Female beating out Linda Ronstadt, who was nominated for her Heart Like a Wheel album; Olivia Newton-John; and Helen Reddy. Ian performed "At Seventeen" as a musical guest on the debut of Saturday Night Live on October 11, 1975. The song's album, Between the Lines, was also a smash and hit #1 on Billboard's Album chart. It was quickly certified Gold and later earned a 'Platinum' certification for sales of over one million copies sold in the US. Another measure of her success is anecdotal: on Valentine's Day 1977, Ian received 461 Valentine cards, having indicated in the lyrics to "At Seventeen" that she never received any as a teenager.[10]

"Fly Too High" (1979), produced by disco producer Giorgio Moroder, was Ian's contribution to the soundtrack of the Jodie Foster film Foxes, also featured on Ian's 1979 album Night Rains. It earned her a Grammy nomination and became a hit single in many countries, including South Africa, Belgium. Australia, Israel, and the Netherlands. Another country where Ian has achieved a high level of popularity is Japan. Ian had two top 10 singles on the Japanese Oricon charts, "Love Is Blind" in 1976, and "You Are Love" in 1980.

Ian's album Aftertones topped Oricon's album chart in October 1976.[11] "You Are Love (Toujours Gai Mon Cher)" is the theme song of Kinji Fukasaku's 1980 movie Virus. She cut several other singles specifically for the Japanese market, including 1998's "The Last Great Place". She reached the pop charts only once more after "At Seventeen" ("Under the Covers", #71 in 1981), though she had several more songs reach the Adult Contemporary singles chart through 1980 (all failing to make the Top 20, however). She walked away from her CBS contract in 1982 with three albums to go. She spent much of the 1980s and early 1990s without a record deal.[citation needed]

From 1982–92, Ian continued to write songs, often in collaboration with then-songwriting partner Kye Fleming, which have been covered by, among others, Amy Grant, Bette Midler and Marti Jones. She released Breaking Silence in 1993 and coming out as a lesbian.[12] The album, Folk Is The New Black, was released jointly by the Rude Girl and Cooking Vinyl labels in 2006, her first in more than two decades.[13]

Other artists have recorded Ian's compositions, including Roberta Flack, who had a hit in 1973 with Ian's song "Jesse".[12] Ian's own version is included on the 1974 album Stars (the title song of which has also been oft-covered, including versions by Shirley Bassey, Cher, Nina Simone and Barbara Cook). She continues to tour, with a round of concerts scheduled for the United Kingdom in 2014, and a series of appearances in the US after that.[11]

Criticism of the RIAA[edit]

She is an outspoken critic of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA),[14] a record industry organization which she sees as acting against the interests of musicians and consumers. As such, she has willingly released several of her songs for free download from her website.[15] Along with science fiction authors Eric Flint and Cory Doctorow, she has argued that their experience provides conclusive evidence that free downloads dramatically increased hard-copy sales, contrary to the claims of RIAA and NARAS.[16] Ian's signature tune "At Seventeen" sold over two million singles in the United States alone yet was never certified.

"I've been surprised at how few people are willing to get annoyed with me over it," she laughs. "There was a little backlash here and there. I was scheduled to appear on a panel somewhere and somebody from a record company said if I was there they would boycott it. But that's been pretty much it. In general the entire reaction has been favorable. I hear from a lot of people in my industry who don't want to be quoted, but say 'yeah, we're aware of this and we'd like to see a change too.'"[17]

Writing and editing[edit]

Ian at a Borders book signing in 2005

Ian writes science fiction. A long-time reader of the genre, she got into science fiction fandom in 2001, attending the Millennium Philcon. Her short stories have been published in anthologies, and she co-edited, with Mike Resnick, the anthology Stars: Original Stories Based on the Songs of Janis Ian, published in 2003 (ISBN 978-0-7564-0177-1). She occasionally attends science fiction conventions.[18]

Ian has been a regular columnist for, and still contributes to the LGBT news magazine, The Advocate.[19] She has a selection of her columns available on her website. She contributed a column to Performing Songwriter magazine from 1995–2003.[citation needed]

On July 24, 2008, Ian released her autobiography Society's Child (published by Penguin Tarcher) to much critical acclaim. An accompanying double CD, The Autobiography Collection, has been released with many of Ian's best loved songs.[citation needed]

Personal life[edit]

Ian married Portuguese filmmaker Tino Sargo in 1978; they divorced in 1983. Details of Sargo's physical and emotional abuse were discussed in Ian's autobiography, Society's Child.[20] After moving to Nashville, she met Patricia Snyder in 1989. Ian came out as a lesbian in 1993 with the worldwide release of her album Breaking Silence.[12] Snyder and Ian married in Toronto on August 27, 2003.[21] Ian has a stepdaughter and two grandchildren with Snyder.

Ian's mother, Pearl, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1975. Ian and her brother convinced Pearl to pursue her lifelong dream of going to college. Pearl eventually enrolled in Goddard College's adult education program, ultimately graduating with a master's degree. After Pearl's death, Ian decided to auction off memorabilia and raise money to endow a scholarship at Goddard specifically for older continuing education students. This began what became the Pearl Foundation, a 501(c)(3) public charity. At the end of each year, 90% or more of funds raised from sale of merchandise, donations from fans, and contributions from Ian herself are disbursed to various educational institutions to fund "Pearl Foundation scholarships". To date, it has contributed over $800,000 in scholarship funds, including Warren Wilson College.[20]

Cultural references[edit]

A character in the 2004 American teen comedy film Mean Girls is called Janis Ian.[22]


  • Janis Ian (1967) #29 US (Verve)
  • For All the Seasons of Your Mind (1967) #179 US (Verve)
  • The Secret Life of J. Eddy Fink (1968) (Verve)
  • Who Really Cares (1969) (Verve)
  • Present Company (1971) #223 US (Capitol)
  • Stars (1974) #83 US, #63 (Columbia)
  • Between the Lines (1975) #1 US, #4 Canada, #22 Japan (Columbia, Festival)
  • Aftertones (1976) #12 US, #81 Canada, #1 Japan (Columbia)
  • Miracle Row (1977) #45 US, #26 Japan (Columbia)
  • Janis Ian (1978) (Columbia)
  • Night Rains (1979) (Columbia)
  • Restless Eyes (1981) #156 US (Columbia)
  • Uncle Wonderful (1983) (Rude Girl)
  • Breaking Silence (1992) (Morgan Creek)
  • Simon Renshaw Presents: Janis Ian Shares Your Pain (1995) (Rude Girl) (not released until 12.09)
  • Revenge (1995) (Rude Girl)
  • Hunger (1997) (Windham Hill/Rude Girl)
  • God & the FBI (2000) (Windham Hill/Rude Girl)
  • Lost Cuts 1 (2001) (Rude Girl)
  • Billie's Bones (2004) (Rude Girl)
  • Folk Is the New Black (2006) (Rude Girl)
  • Strictly Solo (2014) (Rude Girl) Available only at live shows.
Compilation albums
  • Remember (1978) (orig. JVC Japan, now Rude Girl)
  • The Best of Janis Ian (1980) (CBS Benelux)
  • My Favourites (1980) (CBS Benelux)
  • At Seventeen (1990) (CBS)
  • Up 'Til Now (1992) (Sony)
  • Society's Child: The Verve Recordings (1995) (Polydor/UMG)
  • Live on the Test 1976 (1995) (BBC World Wide)
  • Unreleased 1: Mary's Eyes (1998) (Rude Girl)
  • The Bottom Line Encore Collection (1999) (Bottom Line Records)
  • The Best of Janis Ian (2002) (Festival Australia)
  • Live: Working Without a Net (2003) (Rude Girl)
  • Souvenirs: Best of 1972–1981 (2004) (Rude Girl)
  • Unreleased 2: Take No Prisoners (2006) (Rude Girl)
  • Unreleased 3: Society's Child (2006) (Rude Girl)
  • Ultimate Best (2007) (JVC Victory)
  • Best of Janis Ian: Autobiography Collection (2008) (Rude Girl)
  • The Essential Janis Ian (Sony worldwide)
Year Title U.S. Billboard U.S. Cash Box U.S. A/C Kent Music Report (Australia) UK JPN
1967 "Society's Child (Baby I've Been Thinking)" 14 13
"Insanity Comes Quietly to the Structured Mind" 109 82
1974 "The Man You Are in Me" 104 105 33
1975 "When the Party's Over" 112 20
"At Seventeen" 3 1 1 23
"In the Winter" 97 21
1976 "Boy I Really Tied One On" 43
"I Would Like to Dance" 28
"Roses" 37
"Love Is Blind" 1
"Between the Lines" 90
1977 "Will You Dance?" 40
1978 "That Grand Illusion" 43
1979 "Fly Too High" 44
1980 "You Are Love" 10
"The Other Side of the Sun" 47 44
1981 "Under the Covers" 71 79
2010 "Every Woman's Song" (with Angela Aki)[23][24] 53
  • Live at Club Cafe (2005) (Rude Girl)
  • Janismania (2005) (Rude Girl)
  • Through the Years: A Retrospective (2007) (Rude Girl)
  • Janis Ian '79: Live in Japan & Australia (2008) (Rude Girl)



  1. ^ "Janis Ian: A Life in Song" (PDF). Janis Ian Website. 2006. Archived from the original (PDF) on May 7, 2007. Retrieved 2007-06-09. 
  2. ^ a b c Ankeny, Jason (2003). Bogdanov, Vladimir; Woodstra, Chris; and Erlewine, Stephen Thomas, ed. All Music Guide to the Blues: The Definitive Guide to the Blues. Backbeat Books. ISBN 0-87930-736-6. 
  3. ^ Nash, Margo. "JERSEY FOOTLIGHTS", The New York Times, March 16, 2003; accessed December 19, 2007. "Yet when Janis Ian went to East Orange High School, she was kicked out of the chorus."
  4. ^ Life Magazine, October 27, 1967, p. 53
  5. ^ Life Magazine, October 27, 1967 p. 53
  6. ^ Silman, Anna (Jul 29, 2015). "Janis Ian says Bill Cosby allegedly spread lesbian rumors about her as a teen, tried to blacklist her from TV". Salon. Retrieved 29 July 2015. 
  7. ^ Jones, Nate (Jul 29, 2015). "Janis Ian Shares Her Own Creepy Bill Cosby Story". Vulture. Retrieved 29 July 2015. 
  8. ^ Goodman, Jessica. "Janis Ian recalls personal story about Bill Cosby following New York cover feature" (July 29, 2015). Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 29 July 2015. 
  9. ^ Wiser, Carl. "Janis Ian interview (March 14, 2003)". Songfacts. Retrieved September 27, 2012. 
  10. ^ Rees, Dafydd; Luke Crampton (1996). Encyclopedia of Rock Stars. Dk Pub. ISBN 0-7894-1263-2. 
  11. ^ a b "Janis Ian: On Tour". janisian.com. Retrieved January 20, 2014. 
  12. ^ a b c Keehnen, Owen (March 24, 2005). "At 42: Lesbian Legend Janis Ian Comes Out". Queer Culture Center. Retrieved November 15, 2012. 
  13. ^ Wilson, David Bertrand. "Trying The Patience Of: Janis Ian". Wilson & Alroy's Record Reviews. Retrieved September 10, 2013. 
  14. ^ Ian, Janis (May 2002). "The Internet Debacle – An Alternative View". Performing Songwriter Magazine. Archived from the original on May 9, 2007. Retrieved 2007-06-09. 
  15. ^ Free Music Downloads on Janis Ian's official website
  16. ^ Prime Palaver #11 – letter by Janis Ian to Baen librarian, Eric Flint, September 16, 2002
  17. ^ Vanderhorst, Jan (October 2002). "Janis Ian: Doing It From The Heart". Retrieved 2007-06-09. 
  18. ^ John Teehan. "Janis at Worldcon 2001". Sff.net. Retrieved 2013-12-05. 
  19. ^ "Revenge is sweet for Janis Ian" by Jeff Walsh, March 1, 1996
  20. ^ a b Ian, Janis. 2008. Society's Child: My Autobiography. New York City: Tarcher.
  21. ^ "Ian profile". Glbtq.com. Retrieved 2013-12-05. 
  22. ^ www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/04/30 Archived June 14, 2015 at the Wayback Machine
  23. ^ "ジャニス・イアンとの夢のコラボ曲「Every Woman's Song」が 着うた(R)、着うたフル(R)で好評配信中!" [Janis Ian dream collabo song, "Every Woman's Song" out as a ringtone and a cellphone download!] (in Japanese). Sony Music Japan. September 1, 2010. Archived from the original on May 31, 2014. Retrieved June 1, 2014. 
  24. ^ "Japan Billboard Hot 100 2010/09/20". Billboard (in Japanese). September 20, 2009. Retrieved March 5, 2014. 

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