Written by Cynthia J. Beeman
Read by Amy Cook
One of the most famous rock and roll singers to come out of Texas, Janis Joplin grew up in the Gulf Coast refinery town of Port Arthur. Unpopular and an outcast during high school, she often sneaked across the Sabine River with friends to drink and listen to zydeco, blues, and jazz in the many bars that lined the Louisiana border. Her singing talent, manifested earlier in her life with performances in church and school choirs, evolved into an earthy, bluesy style as she began imitating idols such as Big Mama Thornton and Bessie Smith.
By the time Janis left Port Arthur for the University of Texas at Austin in 1962, she was well on her way to becoming a full-time singer, performing at the student union and at Threadgill’s beer joint. By 1963, she headed to California and quickly became an integral part of the San Francisco counter culture scene. Her performance with Big Brother and the Holding Company at the 1967 Monterey International Pop Festival catapulted her to global fame, and the next three years were a whirlwind of concerts, travel, and wild living, including a serious alcohol and drug habit. In October 1970, a few months after a disastrous trip to Port Arthur for her high school reunion, Janis Joplin died of a drug overdose in Los Angeles. Her last album, Pearl, included the instrumental, unfinished song recorded the day before she died. Its title was “Buried Alive in the Blues.”
Echols, Alice. Scars of Sweet Paradise: The Life and Times of Janis Joplin. New York: Owl Books/Henry Holt and Company, 1999.
Utley, Dan K. and Cynthia J. Beeman, History along the Way: Stories beyond the Texas Roadside Markers, College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2013.
Audio Source Information
Our project, "Texas Women's History Moments," received the 2012 National Council on Public History Outstanding Public History Award and the American Association for State and Local History Leadership in History Award. The audio clips were broadcast on KUT radio from 2011-2016 during Women’s History Month.