Link to Living Tradition Homepage





ELIZABETH THOMSON - Joan Baez: The Last Leaf 

ELIZABETH THOMSON - Joan Baez: The Last Leaf 
Palazzo Publishing ISBN: 9781786750969 

A biography of a pre-eminent folk performer, written by an established author-journalist with extensive personal experience of interviewing her subject over a long timespan, is bound to be considered a major event. This book, which appeared in time for Joan’s 80th birthday in January 2021, was originally commissioned as a large-format, fully illustrated book, but COVID implications throughout the publishing industry necessitated a scaling-down of the project, and the result is a slimmer, trimmer volume that nevertheless manages to pack a hell of a lot into its 224 pages, miraculously managing to include also a comprehensive discography, filmography and bibliography and a plethora of photographs that really do enhance the text.

There can be no argument that Joan is one of the most important folk figures of the 20th century, one who seems always to have been around, performing consistently right up to the end of her worldwide tour in July 2019. In so many spheres, Joan has made history – indeed, been part of history. For, as this exhaustively researched book shows par excellence, there was so much more to Joan than her music – not least her intense adherence to the guiding principle of non-violence and her legendary political convictions – while she has steadfastly supported a wealth of causes; her indefatigable championship of human rights alone would have ensured her place in the global hall of fame. The Last Leaf places all these aspects in perspective while nowhere ignoring the striking impact she made on the folk music scene from the very earliest days. Oh, that sublime soaring bell-like soprano voice with its exceptional poise and control, a voice that was to influence countless aspiring young singers over many successive decades. And, of course, her distinctive physical beauty. Moreover, Joan has unwaveringly espoused a repertoire of songs that “touched her soul”, never a slave to commercial demands or industry whims. Crucially too, this book also highlights Joan’s humility, exemplified by her promotion of Bob Dylan in his own early career, sidestepping the marketing of her own talent in spite of her own ambitions.

The value of this biography is summarised in its preface: “The Last Leaf endeavours to show how central a figure she is in post-war socio-cultural history and how she used her gift to bring solace and hope to people who had little of either. Hers is a life that demonstrates the transformative power of music.” Amen to that!

David Kidman


This review appeared in Issue 137 of The Living Tradition magazine