More than 50 years since the tragic death of US singer Janis Joplin, her siblings explain why now was the right time to release her personal scrapbook to the public
To many, she was the first female rock star. Making her mark as the lead singer of psychedelic rock band Big Brother and the Holding Company at the June 1967 Monterey Pop Festival in California, Janis Joplin’s candle burned brightly for the next three years, ending with her death from a heroin overdose on October 4, 1970, aged just 27.
In that short time, her cultural presence was as powerful as her voice, inspiring more female talent within the rock, soul and blues scene, gracing magazine covers and photo shoots, and winning over new fans in interviews with her honesty and humour.
Joplin in 1969, Copyright © Fantality Corp
Today, Janis’s memory lives on through her younger siblings, sister Laura, 72, and brother Michael, 68, who oversee her estate, handling everything from photos to merchandise. Their most recent project is a reproduction of Janis’s own personal scrapbook, kept by the singer from 1966-1968, documenting her rise to stardom.
Inside are posters, press clippings and photos, alongside Janis’s handwritten notes, with other material from the family archives, including early photographs, reproductions of handwritten letters, and even pages of another scrapbook kept by the star at high school, as well as dedications and musings from a host of industry names, including Kris Kristofferson and Tom Jones.
The full package, Janis Joplin: Days & Summer—Scrapbook 1966-1968, courtesy of Genesis Publications, is limited to just 2,000 copies worldwide. But still there is the question, why release it now more than 50 years after her death?
"It’s like a piece of her actual persona"
“We had this scrapbook, and it’s been a heart-warming, tender thing for us as a family,” Michael admits. “It’s like a piece of her actual persona, as she was choosing what to put in it, cutting out articles and gluing it all together. We never really shared it a lot, because it was hers, and so personal to her. But there came a point, we thought, well it’s been 50 years, maybe it should come out.”
Janis' horoscope, taken from the Scrapbook, Copyright © Fantality Corp
For Laura, the book was a chance for Janis to speak for herself. “In a way that no amount of interviews ever could,” she says. “One of the reasons we wanted to keep it for ourselves was that it allowed us to feel as close as we could to her. But now we want to share that with others, because we know how much they care about her.”
Piecing together the content, and adding their own family photos, became a chance for the siblings to recall growing up with Janis at home in Port Arthur, Texas. “As a family, we were very artistic, very musical, and our parents instilled that quite heavily in us,” says Michael. “And there would be Janis with her guitar, I’d just be in awe of her, and I remember being about 13 when she started playing in clubs, I thought it was the coolest thing ever. And then when I’m in high school, she’s on the radio.”
In 1970 with friends, Copyright © Fantality Corp
Laura similarly looked up to her older sister. “I idolised her, and she had all of this energy,” she says. “She would paint and draw, and we always had music on. Our mother used to be a singer, and would always play Broadway shows tunes, and our father listened to classical music. And then Janis got into blues, playing her guitar and LPs, and watching people live, and she had a lot of friends who were musical too.”
Janis was eventually travelling for music, and then meeting other artists, soon joining up with Big Brother and the Holding Company. Her family back home felt simultaneously proud and concerned, impressed by Janis’s success, but equally worried about the pressures of drugs and alcohol. “Janis’s life was a period of confusion, being lost and then being powerful, and then coming home and retreating,” Laura explains. “There were different waves in her life, and for me a sense of support and awe, but also fear.”
"Janis’s life was a period of confusion, being lost and then being powerful, and then coming home and retreating"
Her steady rise to stardom, as shown in the scrapbook, conveys a sense of excitement and possibilities. “What amuses me, she collected all this stuff, but as she gets more and more famous it starts to taper off,” laughs Michael. “She was working hard, playing all over the place, with concerts every night. She didn’t have time to sit around cutting out articles.”
Copyright © Barry Feinstein Photography Inc.
After recording two albums with Big Brother and the Holding Company, Janis left the band in 1968 to pursue a solo career, releasing her first album in 1969. Her second and most successful album, Pearl—which contains her most famous original song, “Mercedes-Benz”—was released posthumously in 1971, three months after her death.
Reflecting on why their sister is still relevant today, Laura and Michael are happy to share their opinions. “The timeframe for her was critically important, and what was going on musically and politically, there was a lot of weird synergy, and it felt like she was one of the figures at the forefront of it all, so I couldn’t be prouder of that,” says Michael.
"What occurs to me is how honest she was. Her music is emotionally open, and I think people are attracted to that."
“I’ve thought about it, and I don’t have a definitive answer,” adds Laura. “But what occurs to me is how honest she was. Her music is emotionally open, and I think people are attracted to that. And where her music was about the emotional intimacy of sound, I think the scrapbook allows you to connect with her emotionally through the images.”
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