Baez's commanding soprano is hard to ignore.
In late April singer-songwriter Joan Baez sat at the bedside of her 100-year-old mother -- lovingly nicknamed Big Joan -- absorbing the final moments before she died. Despite the sad occasion, Baez felt satisfaction in remembering a lifetime together.
"We got a lot of work done in our souls," says Baez, 72, who plays Overture Center's Capitol Theater June 7. "There's no way around the sadness, but it doesn't have to be suffering."
Baez gives her mother credit for making her tough, as toughness has characterized her 50-year music career and her dedication to political action. In addition to exposing her to different types of music, her mother was her most appreciative fan.
"She loved my voice. I was always a little nervous around her because she was critical. She wasn't critical of me, but she was very fussy about the music she listened to. And I figured that either I was getting off easy or she really liked the music."
Baez has sung in many styles and languages over the 30 albums she's released, and she's covered artists ranging from Pete Seeger to Ryan Adams. But she first found her voice in folk.
"Folk music is pretty much rooted in the earth and in the mud. And so is poverty and so are the real things in life, and I think my position has always been to stir it up even if it's mud," she says. "I think it's what I've done around the music that's made my life rich."
Baez is committed to social issues, and her commanding soprano makes her hard to ignore. She's tackled many problems in the U.S. and abroad, performing at 1963's March on Washington and other pivotal civil rights events.
Baez also helped other musicians, most notably Bob Dylan. She introduced Dylan to her much larger fan base in the early 1960s.
"After a few years, he didn't really want to be stamped as political," Baez says. "He drifted off on another direction, but his was the finest music then and the finest music still."
Like Dylan, Baez has reinvented herself over the years. Recently she's begun expressing herself through painting.
"I had sketched all my life and poked around various things in painting, but I never got serious about it. And now it's all I really want to do," she says.
She still enjoys touring, though, especially when she's joined by her son Gabriel, who plays drums.
"It's special. I mean, how many moms get to do something like this?"