Songwriter, storyteller and activist Joan Baez, whose distinctive voice has long brought attention to the forgotten and oppressed, will accept the 2020 Woody Guthrie Prize in honor of her groundbreaking career and impact on humanitarian causes.

“As I have followed in the footsteps of Woody Guthrie, it has been my mission to use my music as a voice for those who cannot be heard or have been silenced by fear and powerlessness,” Baez said in a news release issued by the Woody Guthrie Center. “Thank you, Woody, and I will gladly accept the Woody Guthrie prize.”

The Woody Guthrie Center will present Baez the award Aug. 16 during the virtual edition of the 2020 Philadelphia Folk Festival, one of the nation’s longest-running folk festivals and one which Baez has played numerous times. Along with the presentation of the award, the event will include a discussion with Baez moderated by Bob Santelli, founding executive director of the Grammy Museum. A pay-what-you-can ticket must be purchased to view the program. Tickets are available at folkfest.org.

The Woody Guthrie Prize recognizes artists across media who have used their talents to speak for those without a platform. Past recipients include Chuck D, John Mellencamp, Norman Lear, Kris Kristofferson, Mavis Staples and Pete Seeger.

Woody Guthrie Center Director Deana McCloud said this about Baez: “In his lyrics to ‘Tom Joad,’ Woody wrote ‘Wherever people ain’t free/Wherever men are fightin’ for their rights/That’s where I’m gonna be.’ For the past seven decades, that’s exactly where Joan Baez has been. A staunch activist, Ms. Baez has consistently been on the front lines in the fight for social justice, peace and equality. As a true child of Woody Guthrie, she has continued the work he began during his short life, and we are proud to present her with this well-deserved recognition.”

Baez was born in 1941 in New York and graduated from high school in Palo Alto, California. Her family moved to Boston and, by the late 1950s, she was a regular at the famed folk venue Club 47 in Cambridge.

As Baez’s music career expanded, her work as an activist grew significantly in the 1960s with her commitment to the civil rights and anti-war movements.

Baez has channeled her activism into groups like Amnesty International, The Circle of Life Foundation, Human Rights Watch and Bread and Roses, founded by Baez’s late sister, Mimi.

Baez co-founded The Institute for the Study of Nonviolence in the 1960s, and it still operates today as the Resource Center for Nonviolence.

Inducted into to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2017, Baez has released 67 albums, including compilations and live albums. She has received eight Grammy nominations and two Lifetime Achievement Awards from the Grammys. She was presented a Latin Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2019.

The Woody Guthrie Prize event normally serves as a fundraiser for programs promoting Guthrie’s legacy and message of social justice. To help the center continue its work during COVID-19, consider shopping its online store at woodyguthriecenter.org.

The Tulsa-based Woody Guthrie Center is currently closed out of an abundance of caution for protection of staff and visitors during the COVID-19 crisis.


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Jimmie is a pop culture and feature writer at the Tulsa World. A former Oklahoma sports writer of the year, he has written books about former Oklahoma football coach Barry Switzer and former Oklahoma State football coach Pat Jones. Phone: 918-581-8389