Janis Joplin was born on January 19th, 1943 in Port Arthur, a coastal city in East Texas. After short stints at the University of Texas at Austin and Lamar State College, Joplin started recording songs, and in 1963, she relocated to San Francisco to persue a career in music. In 1964, she recorded a demo of blues standards with guitarist Jorma Kaukonen. Though the tape, which became known as The Typewriter Tape, highlighted her prodigious talent, her problems with speed, alcohol, and heroin forced her to return to Texas in May 1965.
In Texas, she attempted to clean up her life and re-enrolled in college. However, in 1966, Big Brother and the Holding Company, an up-and-coming San Francisco psychedelic rock group, heard her demo and recruited her to be their lead singer. Joplin played her first show with the group on June 4, 1966. The quintet released their self-titled debut album in 1967 and subsequently hoped to capitalize on a substantial buzz, mostly stemming from their performance at the Monterey Pop Festival a few months before the disc was released. While the album was only moderately successful commercially, it introduced the world to Joplin's frenetic, passionate vocal style.
If Janis got her foot in the door with Big Brother's debut, she kicked it down with her performance on the group's 1968 release, Cheap Thrills. Though the record only features seven songs, three of which are covers, it is widely considered one of the greatest albums of the '60s. One of the cover songs, Jerry Ragovoy and Bert Burns' "Piece of My Heart," became a huge hit for the group and features one of Joplin's signature performances.
Though things were looking up for Big Brother, Joplin left the band to pursue a solo career in December 1968. She formed a backing band called the Kozmic Blues Band, and released her first solo album in September 1969. It was called I Got Dem Ol' Kozmic Blues Again Mama! It quickly was certified gold, and it features Joplin favorites, such as "Try (Just a Little Bit Harder)" and "Maybe."
Though her music career was soaring, Joplin was falling apart. The Kozmic Blues Band would not survive 1969; they disbanded at the end of December. She was perpetually fighting against depression, self-doubt, and loneliness. One of her most famous quotes, "Onstage, I make love to 25,000 people, then I go home alone," summed up her deep, internal struggles. Though she had made efforts kick drugs in the past, the singer was again involved with heroin, apparently shooting up daily. She had battled with drugs and alcohol her entire adult life, and, by the end of the decade, it looked like she may ultimately lose the war.
At the turn of the decade, she decided to visit South America, in hopes of cleaning herself up and taking a break from the grueling music industry she had fallen headlong into. However, once the sojourn ended, Joplin came home and fell right back into substance abuse. She formed the Full Tilt Boogie Band in May 1970, and promptly hit the road, and in September of that year, Joplin went back into the studio to record her next album.
By the 4th of October, she was gone, found alone in her LA hotel room dead of a heroin overdose. She was 27.
The album she was working on, Pearl, was released four months later. Many view Pearl as her greatest achievement. It has a more polished sound, and Janis' vocals are on fire. Rolling Stone ranked it the 122nd greatest album of all-time. It features some of her most famous songs, notably Kris Kristofferson's "Me and Bobby McGee" (arguably her most popular) and the haunting, sparse "Mercedes Benz." The latter would be the last song she would ever record, and remains a testament to the power and passion of truly singular vocalist.
Since her death, the Texan has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Grammys. More importantly, she has enjoyed continued musical, social, and personal relevance generations after her passing.