Friday, September 1, 2017

Famous Speech Friday: Joan Baez's Rock Hall induction speech

She called her induction in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame "prestigious, and very cool." But Joan Baez, the lyrical folk singer and fighter for social causes, might have been describing herself. She burst onto the folk scene in 1960, with her first three albums going gold, and has been succeeding ever since for nearly 60 years. It was Baez, then the more famous one and called the "barefoot Madonna," who popularized Bob Dylan's music early on.

Her voice--high and clear and strong--figured in this acceptance speech in more ways than one:
My voice is my greatest gift. I can speak freely about the uniqueness of it precisely because it is just that: a gift. 
The second greatest gift was the desire to use it the way I have since I was 16 and became a student of and practitioner of nonviolence, both in my personal life and as a way of fighting for social change. What has given my life deep meaning, and unending pleasure, has been to use my voice in the battle against injustice. It has brought me in touch with my own purpose. It has also brought me in touch with people of every background. With open, generous, fun loving, hardworking people, here in this country and around the world. It has brought me in touch with the wealthy, the ones who are stuck in selfishness, and the ones who give generously of their time and resources to benefit the less fortunate, and light the way for others to do the same.
Baez wound up her speech with a call to action for social justice:
Where empathy is failing and sharing has been usurped by greed and the lust for power, let us double, triple, and quadruple our own efforts to empathize and to give of our resources and our selves. Let us together repeal and replace brutality, and make compassion a priority. Together let us build a great bridge, a beautiful bridge to once again welcome the tired and the poor, and we will pay for that bridge with our commitment. We the people must speak truth to power, and be ready to make sacrifices. We the people are the only one who can create change. I am ready. I hope you are, too. I want my granddaughter to know that I fought against an evil tide, and had the masses by my side.
What can you learn from this famous speech?
  • Play to the entire audience: Baez relates how her own granddaughter didn't know how famous her grandmother was--until she took her backstage at a Taylor Swift concert. She notes she's sharing that story because many younger viewers watching might have the same problem, and does it without a shred of shame or hesitation. It adds a funny, self-deprecating-but-not-really note.
  • Craft a moving call to action: Her call to social justice echoes the poem to immigrants on the Statue of Liberty, "give me your tired, your poor," and evokes a bridge instead of the wall between the U.S. and Mexico threatened by the current U.S. president. And in the tradition of the best calls to action, she includes herself, not exhorting the crowd to do anything she would not do.
  • A little alliteration never hurts: "A special thank you to my manager, Mark Spector, for having kept my career visible, viable, and vibrant," added an almost musical touch to the opening. When you can use it well, alliteration lands softly on the ears of the audience; it sounds smooth and less awkward than it might when you're writing it. And she didn't have to stretch to achieve it; these words are appropriate to the task.
In the picture above, Baez is with Jackson Browne. Her rendition of his song "Fountain of Sorrow" is a favorite, well worth a listen.

Read the full text here and watch the video here or below.

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