I was lucky enough to sing with Jean and her sons in the 1970s, visiting with her and husband George Pickow at their beautiful home. More recently, I was able to introduce Jean to my long-time friend Kathy Mattea, who was unaccountably shy to meet her. I was again fortunate to guest on the tribute CD, Dear Jean – Artists Celebrate Jean Ritchie. In working up her song ‘Mariah’s Gone’, I really came to understand what a stunning interpreter and writer she was. My version is light years different from hers, but I’m told she liked mine a lot, even so – a true artist, to acknowledge her art in another’s heart, and see it as an act of homage rather than ego.
I guess what I’m saying is that her thread ran through my life. She came from a world without record players, without CDs, without the constant hum and noise of speakers everywhere. A world where families made music together, both to entertain and to educate. A world that is sadly dying in this country, and one I greatly miss. The handing down of music is the handing down of culture and history, both personal and global. Jean epitomized that world, and we are poorer for this loss.
Janis Ian was barely into her teens when she received her first Grammy nomination for ‘Society’s Child’, a brave and controversial song from her debut album. Since then, there have been 10 nominations and three Grammys, most recently for Best Spoken Word for Society’s Child: My Autobiography, as well as countless other awards. Her many celebrated songs include ‘At Seventeen’ and ‘Jesse’. In February 2016, Janis Ian was honoured with a concert in Lincoln Center’s American Songbook series.