A Night with Janis Joplin
August 18 – September 10
Gilliam Stage at Barter Theatre
"This electrifying concert musical resurrects the QUEEN OF ROCK N ROLL"
Created, Written and Directed by Randy Johnson
Like a comet that burns far too brightly to last, Janis Joplin exploded onto the music scene in 1967 and, almost overnight, became the Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll. Her unmistakable voice, filled with raw emotion and tinged with Southern Comfort, made her a must-see headliner from Monterey to Woodstock. A Night with Janis Joplin is a musical journey celebrating Janis and her biggest musical influences – trailblazers like Aretha Franklin, Etta James, Odetta, Nina Simone and Bessie Smith, who inspired one of Rock ‘n’ Roll’s greatest legends.
“A Night with Janis Joplin rocks the house. This will rock your socks off!”
That voice—high, husky, earthy, explosive—remains among the most distinctive and galvanizing in pop history. But Janis Joplin didn’t merely possess a great instrument; she threw herself into every syllable, testifying from the very core of her being. She claimed the blues, soul, gospel, country and rock with unquestionable authority and verve, fearlessly inhabiting psychedelic guitar jams, back-porch roots and everything in between. Her volcanic performances left audiences stunned and speechless, while her sexual magnetism, world-wise demeanor and flamboyant style shattered every stereotype about female artists—and essentially invented the rock mama paradigm. But California drew her back to its glittering embrace in 1966, when she joined the Haight-based psychedelic-rock band Big Brother and the Holding Company. Her adoption of a wild sartorial style—with granny glasses, frizzed-out hair and extravagant attire that winked, hippie-style, at the burlesque era—further spiked her burgeoning reputation. And from there, the rest is history. In the years since her passing, Janis Joplin’s recordings and filmed performances have cemented her status as an icon, inspiring countless imitators and musical devotees. Myriad hit collections, live anthologies, various commercials, and a hit Broadway show have kept her legend alive.
The Who’s Who of the Joplinaires
All artists take their inspiration from people, places and things that surround them and that came before them. Here is a look into some of the amazing women who inspired Janis Joplin.
Bessie Smith (April 15, 1894 – September 26, 1937) Jazz and blues vocalist Bessie Smith had a powerfully soulful voice that won her countless fans and earned her the title of Empress of the Blues.
Smith began singing at a young age, was discovered by blues vocalist Ma Rainey in 1912, and signed with Columbia Records in 1923. Her wildly popular song, “Downhearted Blues,” propelled her first record to sell an estimated 800,000 copies. Before long Smith was among the highest paid black performers of her time.
Smith spent her career working alongside important jazz performers, including saxophonist Sidney Bechet, pianists Fletcher Henderson and James P. Johnson — with whom she recorded one of her most famous songs, “Backwater Blues” — and legendary jazz artist Louis Armstrong. Smith, and her music, was a major influence for countless female vocalists including Billie Holliday, Aretha Franklin and Janis Joplin.
Odetta (December 31, 1930 – December 2, 2008) Credited with supplying the soundtrack of the civil rights movement and inspiring musicians from Bob Dylan to Joan Baez and Janis Joplin, Odetta used music to work on the hate and fury she felt, without being antisocial.
In 1956 Odetta released her first solo album, “Odetta Sings Ballads and Blues”, which became an instant classic in American folk music, followed by the highly acclaimed folk albums “At the Gate of Horn”, in 1957 and “My Eyes Have Seen,” in 1959.
During the 1960s, Odetta lent her powerful voice to the cause of black equality, performing at political rallies, demonstrations and benefits. In 1963 she gave the most iconic performance of her life, singing from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, during the March on Washington.
Odetta was awarded the National Medal of Arts, made a Kennedy Center honoree, and awarded the Living Legend Award by the Library of Congress. Her final album, a live recording performed at 74-years-old, “Gonna Let It Shine” was released in 2005.
Nina Simone (February 21, 1933 – April 21, 2003) An icon of American music, Nina Simone (born Eunice Kathleen Waymon), was one of the most extraordinary artists of the twentieth century. The classically trained pianist reigned over the 1950s and ‘60s, singing a mixture of jazz, blues and folk music, and was coined the High Priestess of Soul.
In 1957 Simone released her first album, scoring a Top 20 hit with I Loves You Porgy. She released a bevy of albums from the ‘50s – ‘70s, putting her own spin on songs like Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin’” and the Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun.”
A staunch civil rights activist, Simone became known as the voice of the civil rights movement. With songs like “Mississippi Goddam,” written in response to the 1963 assassination of Medgar Evers and the Birmingham church bombing that killed four young African-American girls, Simone left a lasting impression on the world of music, art and activism. She sang to share her truth, and inspired an array of performers, including Aretha Franklin, Joni Mitchell, Janis Joplin and Lauryn Hill while doing so.
Etta James (January 25, 1938 – January 20, 2012) Queen of Soul Jamesetta Hawkins, later known as Etta James, was a Gospel singing prodigy by age five, and grew to be a Grammy award-winning singer known for hit songs like “I’d Rather Go Blind” and “At Last.”
As a teenager, she formed vocal trio The Creolettes, and auditioned for Rhythm & Blues bandleader Johnny Otis. Otis took Hawkins under his wing, renamed his protégé, recorded her number one hit R&B song “Roll With Me Henry,” and took her on to tour with Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson, Ike and Tina Turner and Little Richard.
In 1968 Chess Records sent her to Alabama to record at Fame Studios, resulting in her next top 10 R&B hit, “Tell Mama”— a song that Janis Joplin would later cover. However it was the B-side song, “I’d Rather Go Blind,” a brooding and agonized ballad of loss and jealousy, which would become one of her most celebrated recordings, and one of the classic ‘sides’ of soul music.
Her 1973 album “Etta James” earned a Grammy nomination for its creative combination of rock and funk sounds, and she won the Grammy for Best Contemporary Blues Album for “Let’s Roll” in 2003. She performed during the opening ceremony of the Los Angeles Olympics, and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993.
Aretha Franklin (March 25, 1942 — ) Multiple Grammy award-winning Aretha Franklin is due the R-E-S-P-E-C-T she sings about.
A gifted pianist with a powerful voice, Franklin started singing in front of her father’s congregation, and released her first album, “Songs of Faith” in 1956. She signed with Columbia Records in 1960 and released “Aretha” in 1961 — which garnered two top 10 R&B hits.
At the Florence Alabama Musical Emporium—backed by session guitarists Eric Clapton and Duane Allman—Franklin recorded her massive top 10 hit “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You).” Franklin churned out a string of singles that would become enduring classics, showcasing her powerful voice and gospel roots in a pop framework.
In 1967 she released “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)” with the first track, “Respect” reaching No. 1 on both the R&B and pop charts, and winning Franklin her first two Grammy awards. Franklin’s chart dominance made her a symbol of black empowerment, and in 1968 she performed at Dr. King’s funeral.
Her success has continued to this day: taking home a total of 18 Grammys, with eight consecutive wins for best R&B female vocal performance in the ‘70s. In 1987 Franklin became the first female artist to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and the second woman to be inducted into the UK Music Hall of Fame in 2005. She was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Detroit, and has received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, the Kennedy Center Honors, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Additionally, Franklin sang at both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama’s presidential inaugurations.
Like those before her, she paved the way and provided inspiration for Janis Joplin, helping to shape the amazing musician she became.
Cast & Credits
Created, written and directed by: Randy Johnson
Set Designer: Brian Prather+
Costume Designer: Amy Clark+
Lighting Designer: Ryan J. O’Gara+
Sound Designer: Tony Angelini
Projections by: Derek Smith based on an original design by Darrel Maloney+
Wig Designer: Leah J. Loukas
Original Music Arrangements: Len Rhodes
Associate Director: Grady McLeod Bowman
Music Director: Todd Olson
Production Stage Manager: Tori Sheehan*
Assistant Stage Manager: Victoria L. Sutton*
Musical Supervisor: Michael J. Moritz, Jr.
Dance Captain: Kristin Piacentile
Janis Joplin: Kelly McIntyre
Janis Joplin (at certain performances): Kristin Piacentile
Featured as Blues Singer: Danyel Fulton
Featured as Chantel, Aretha Franklin, Nina Simone: Jannie Jones
Featured as Chantel, Bessie Smith, Odetta: Nikita Jones
Featured as Chantel, Etta James: Kimberly Ann Steele
Music Director/Keyboard: Todd Olson
Guitar 1: Gill Braswell
Guitar 2: Randy Carroll
Bass: Glenn Diamond
Trumpet: Sloan Hill
Trombone: Gary Easley
Saxophone: Gary Robertz
Drums: Ben Cantrell
Keyboard Programmer: Michael J. Moritz Jr.
“Combination of the Two” Joplinaires & the Band
“Tell Mama” Janis Joplin, Etta James and the Joplinaires
“My Baby” Janis Joplin & the Band
“Maybe" The Chantels
“Summertime" Blues Singer
“Summertime” Janis Joplin
“Turtle Blues” Janis Joplin
“Down on Me” Odetta
“Down on Me” Janis Joplin
“Piece of My Heart” Janis Joplin & Joplinaires
“Today I Sing the Blues” Blues Woman
“Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out” Bessie Smith
“Spirit in the Dark” Aretha Franklin, Janis Joplin and Joplinaires
There will be one 15-minute intermission
“Entr’acte/”Raise Your Hand” The Band
“Try (Just a Little Bit Harder)” Janis Joplin & the Band
“Maybe” Janis Joplin & the Band
“Little Girl Blue” Nina Simone & Janis Joplin
“Cry Baby” Janis Joplin
“Kozmic Blues”/”I Shall Be Released” Blues Singer, Nina Simone, Bessie Smith & Etta James
“Me and Bobby McGee” Janis Joplin
“Ball and Chain” Janis Joplin
“Kozmic Blues” Janis Joplin
“Stay With Me” Janis Joplin & Joplinaires
“I’m Gonna Rock My Way to Heaven” Janis Joplin, Joplinaires & the Band
“Mercedes Benz” Janis Joplin