Janis Joplin died tragically on this date in 1970 of an accidental drug overdose. She was just 27 years old. Janis possessed one of the most soulful, powerful and distinct voices in rock ‘n’ roll and carried on the legacy of blues performers like Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey who influenced her.
Joplin was born on January 19, 1943 in Port Arthur, Texas. After attending The University Of Texas in Austin, Joplin moved to San Francisco where she began performing with Big Brother And The Holding Company. Joplin would have her breakout performance with Big Brother at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival. A year later, the singer released her debut album with Big Brother And The Holding Company, Cheap Thrills, which contained songs that, while written by other artists, Janis would make her own. These included the Gershwin classic “Summertime,” the Erma Franklin-recorded “Piece Of My Heart” and Big Mama Thornton’s “Ball And Chain.”
While Cheap Thrills solidified Joplin’s stardom, she left Big Brother And The Holding Compan shortly after its release to pursue a solo career and also recruited a new backing group, the Kosmic Blues Band. On March 16, 1969, Joplin and the Kosmic Blues Band appeared on the storied Ed Sullivan Show where they performed “Raise Your Hand” and “Maybe.” Much like her iconic entries on Cheap Thrills, her song selection on Sullivan consisted of covers that Janis infused with her own electricity and soul.
On Eddie Floyd’s “Raise Your Hand,” Janis’ singing is powerful and spirited, punctuated by her iconic raspy delivery. Joplin is mesmerizing on “Maybe,” which she would include on her 1969 album I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again Mama!, and leaves everything on the stage for the stunning psychedelic blues performance.
To remember Janis, watch the legendary singer on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1969 below: