Obituary: Joan Bridge Baez, anti-war activist.
THE daughter of a minister at St John’s Episcopal Church on Princes Street – where she was baptized – Joan Bridge became best known later in life as the mother of one of the world’s most recognised and best-loved performers, the activist folksinger Joan Baez.
But “Big Joan”, as the mother dubbed herself after her namesake daughter became world-famous, was more than just the parent of a star. She was a massive artistic and moral influence on her three daughters – Joan, Mimi and Pauline – all of whom made their mark on music and passed on her ideals.
It was Joan Bridge (she gained the surname Baez after marrying renowned Mexican-born American physicist Albert Vinicio Baez), who, along with her husband, instilled into their three girls a sense of justice, racial equality and general social conscience.
From that emerged the melodic campaign by Joan Baez Jr – the one we know today as Joan Baez – for human rights around the world, although her early career was sometimes overshadowed by her relationship with an emerging genius calling himself Bob Dylan.
In fact, it was Joan Baez who helped introduce the young Dylan to the world in the heady days of the 1960s when she was involved in the American civil rights movement along with her mother and father.
Opinions differ, but many of those involved at the time say it was the Baez family, notably Joan Bridge and her daughters Joan and Mimi, who nudged Dylan towards the social consciousness that brought him the label “protest singer”, one he tended to reject.
When the by-then famous Joan Baez was arrested in 1967 for supporting young Americans who refused to fight in what they considered an unjust war in Vietnam, her mother Joan Bridge Baez, by then in her mid-50s, was detained and briefly jailed with her.
Until her death at the age of 100, Joan Bridge Baez lived with her famous daughter and extended family in California.
On 13 April, a week before she died, the family held a huge celebration for the Edinburgh-born matriarch’s 100th birthday, “amidst oak trees, spring flowers and 100 brightly coloured balloons…
“One hundred and fifty friends and family sang Happy Birthday, the notices echoing downhill past the chickens, and on farther to the creek, and then throughout the oak trees,” her daughter Joan wrote.
Joan Chandos Bridge was born in Edinburgh on 11 April, 2013, baptized in St John’s, at the western end of Princes Street in the shadow of the Castle, where her father was first a curate, later a minister.
She was descended from the English Dukes of Chandos, the Brydges family, originally from Gloucestershire.
When young Joan was a child, the family emigrated from Edinburgh, first to Canada, later the US, where she met Albert Baez. Albert was born in Puebla, Mexico, son of a Methodist minister, at a high school dance in Madison, New Jersey.
They married in 1936 and became Quakers, travelling around the world, including to England, France, Switzerland, Spain and Baghdad, where Albert, later known to his students as “Professor Al” or amicably as “Popsy”, worked for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) as a professor of physics.
The family later relocated to California, by which time the three daughters were not only multi-lingual but sensitive to many cultures and religions. Joan, the future star, was born in Staten Island, New York, in 1941.
Although Albert Baez was a leading physicist, helping develop the X-ray reflection microscope for examination of living cells, he and his wife Joan also loved classical music, opera, indeed all the arts, and their daughters grew up in that cultural environment.
Albert and Scots-born Joan, as Quakers, also remained pacifists, something which influenced their daughters and, in turn, their daughters’ friends, including the young Bob Dylan.
After meeting the younger Joan, Dylan would go on to write some of his most famous songs, including With God on Our Side, a timely Cold War Americanisation of The Patriot Game by the Irishman Dominic Behan.
Joan Sr never forgot her roots, both Scottish and English, something she passed on musically to her daughters, including songs such as The Braes o’ Balquhidder, which would later become better-known as Wild Mountain Thyme, or Will ye Go, Lassie, Go, recorded by Joan Baez as well as many other artists including The Corries.
Joan Sr and her husband Albert had three daughters – Pauline, perhaps best-known in the music business by her first married name Pauline Marden (now Pauline Bryan), Joan and Mimi.
Pauline co-wrote one of the first great folk-rock songs, Pack up Your Sorrows, along with singer Richard Fariña, who recorded it with his wife Mimi Baez Fariña, Joan and Pauline’s younger sister. Richard Fariña died in a motorcycle accident in 1966. Mimi died of cancer in 2001, which led to a time of extreme distress for the two Joans, her mother and sister.
Although her daughters became better known, Joan Bridge Baez remained a life-long anti-war activist, often demonstrating alongside them and Martin Luther King Jr, during the American civil rights campaign of the 1960s.
On a visit to Scotland last year during a UK tour in which she sang at Glasgow’s Royal Concert Hall, Joan Baez said in an interview: “My mom left Scotland when she was an infant. When I arrived in Scotland, I called her to ask about her father, my grandfather, and his being a minister who had preached somewhere in Edinburgh.
“She said, ‘Oh, yes, it’s a little church at the bottom of what I think is called Princes Street.’ So I went from the top of Princes Street and walked down,” the singer went on.
“When I hit the bottom, there was this giant cathedral. I called home again and my mother said, ‘Oh, yes, that’s where Daddy preached.’” It turned out it was the early 19th century St John’s Episcopal Church with its Gothic towers and spires.
Joan the singer also recalled her mum having supernatural experiences during their visits to a Scottish castle. “Maybe that’s a Scots’ thing,” Joan said. “In the morning, my mom asked me if I’d been all right during the night. When I said I was fine, she asked why I had been knocking on the wall. I wasn’t knocking but my mother tends to get more visitations than most people.”
Shortly before she died, Joan Bridge Baez wrote the following: “When I join the heavenly band… friends who want to celebrate my new adventure, please gather round. Don’t grieve, for it’s only a worn-out body that’s leaving and the memory of any sad times goes with it.
“The good memories are in my spirit and my spirit is with you today. I’m in your midst, for there’s nothing more valuable to me than to be with you, my beloved family and my gracious friends. Take a moment for silence and wish me well. I’ll hear you. Then make the bottles pop. You know I love Champagne almost as much as I love you!
Joan Bridge Baez’s husband Albert died in 2007. Her youngest daughter Mimi died in 2001. She is survived by her daughters Joan and Pauline, two grandsons including Gabe who now plays drums on tour as back-up to his mother, one granddaughter and one great granddaughter, Jasmine.