Before Beyonce and Taylor Swift Ran the World, There Was Joan Baez – Smithsonian Magazine

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There's More to That
A Smithsonian magazine podcast
There's More to That
Today’s artists—especially women—are sometimes criticized for speaking out, but for Baez, art and activism were indivisible
Chris Klimek
Host, "There's More to That"
Taylor Swift and Beyoncé are not the first women to find great artistic and commercial success in pop music, but it’s safe to say none of their forebears have been as powerful as these two megastars. Last month, Taylor Swift’s Midnights brought her her fourth Grammy Award for Album of the Year—making her the most-awarded artist in history in that category—and she announced a forthcoming new album at the awards ceremony. Meanwhile, Beyoncé made sure that Swift didn’t dominate all the news in the run-up to the Super Bowl, using the most-watched event on television to announce her new album, tentatively titled Act II, which arrives on March 29. She made its first two singles available as soon as the ad aired.
Whether you examine sales of recordings, concert tickets and branded merchandise, or the harder-to-quantify metric of influence, the degree of artistic self-determination, financial independence and cultural “market share” commanded by Bey and Tay is unprecedented. But they didn’t blaze that trail alone.
Six decades ago, Joan Baez was part of a folk revival that regarded music not merely as entertainment but as a vessel for political engagement and social change. In the documentary Joan Baez: I Am a Noise, filmed during the now-83-year-old musician and activist’s final concert tour in 2019, she reflects back on her career and the legacy. The documentary is now available to stream on Hulu.
Smithsonian senior editor Jennie Rothenberg Gritz interviewed Baez about the film and about the shifting intersection of art and activism. We present excerpts from that conversation in this episode. Then, I’m joined by veteran music critic Evelyn McDonnell to talk about how the political dimensions of pop music have changed since Baez’s era, and what it means that many fans now look Beyoncé and Taylor Swift not just for great music, but for comment on the state of the world.
A transcript is below. To subscribe to “There’s More to That,” and to listen to past episodes on the history of book banning, the healing wounds of the Vietnam War, a photography project focused on African American descendants of Civil War veterans and more, find us on Apple PodcastsSpotify or wherever you get your podcasts.
Chris Klimek: In 2023, the most talked-about cultural events came from two trailblazing women artists.
Taylor Swift: Welcome to the Eras Tour!
Beyoncé: I hope you feel liberated, but the Renaissance is not over.
Klimek: Taylor Swift and Beyoncé’s massive tours were turned into major movie releases. But as all that was going on, another documentary about a female icon quietly entered the chat.
[CLIP FROM “JOAN BAEZ: I AM A NOISE”]
DJ No. 1: This is radio at Harvard, broadcasting from Cambridge.
DJ No. 2: We are lucky to have Joan Baez here on our show tonight. I know that you’ll enjoy listening to her.
Klimek: Joan Baez: I Am a Noise is an intimate portrait of the life of Joan Baez, the legendary singer-songwriter and political activist who came up in the 1960s folk scene. The documentary was made on the occasion of her final concert tour in 2019, just before Baez turned 80 years old.
[CLIP FROM “JOAN BAEZ: I AM A NOISE”]
DJ No. 1: Ms. Baez, how did you originally get your start in folk?
Joan Baez: Just picked up a guitar and started copying everybody in Harvard Square. I was so bored with college, that’s exactly what I did.
Jennie Rothenberg Gritz: Joan Baez is one of the most influential folk singers in American history, and she came onto the scene at a very young age, right at the dawn of what we think of as the 1960s folk revival.
Klimek: Jennie Rothenberg Gritz recently interviewed Joan Baez for Smithsonian magazine.
Rothenberg Gritz: She made her big debut at the age of 18 at the Newport Folk Festival, the very first Newport Folk Festival in 1959, and she kind of stole the show from a lot of established acts, like Pete Seeger and Odetta. And shortly after that, she also became very instrumental in the civil rights movement.
Baez (singing): … and before I’ll be a slave, I’ll be buried in my grave / And go home to my lord and be free …
Rothenberg Gritz: She started playing music at rallies. She performed at the March on Washington, leading a quarter of a million people singing “We Shall Overcome.”
And really, throughout her whole career, she never wavered from being this kind of pure activist who always stood up for her ideals, at a time when other people went down different avenues. In a lot of ways, Joan Baez was the opposite of what we think of as these big mega-concerts, with Taylor Swift and Beyoncé. They have huge pyrotechnics, and all these effects and glamour. Joan Baez would just get up there and sing, and she’d have the audience sing along, and she would be barefoot.
And in the film, I guess she would’ve been 79 at her last concert tour, and she would still just get up there without shoes on. She just sits up there with her short gray hair, and people come to her not to see a spectacle, but because they feel like they’re part of it. She feels like she’s inviting them onto the stage, in some kind of way—like she’s just at the same level as they are and raising them all up.
Klimek: But despite her down-to-earth, nature, Joan Baez was a huge star. Getting to interview her was a full-circle moment for Jennie.
Rothenberg Gritz: So my father tells me that the first time he and my mother met, it was at a party. He was there with his best friend, who was a teacher at the same school as my mom, and when he walked into the room and he saw her, he said, “She was the Joan Baez type. She was just the type I liked.” And I think what he meant was my mom, she was actually a singer, and she played folk music on a nylon string guitar, and she just had that kind of pure, soulful, kind of creative chick vibe that my dad really liked, because of Joan Baez. So, thank you to Joan Baez that I exist.
Klimek: Wow. You didn’t share that story with her, I don’t think.
Gritz: I don’t think I did, but I’m sure that would be like the 10,000,000th time someone told her their parents got together because of her music.
Klimek: From Smithsonian magazine and PRX Productions, this is “There’s More to That,” the show where you can learn about both the Renaissance and Beyoncé’s Renaissance. On this week’s episode, for Women’s History Month, we’ll hear Jennie’s conversation with Joan Baez, and later we’ll find out what this folk icon has to do with the big tours making headlines today.
I’m Chris Klimek.
Rothenberg Gritz: Hi, Joan. It’s such an honor to be able to talk to you today.
Baez: Thank you very much. I hope I live up to whatever your expectations might be.
Klimek: Jennie began the conversation by talking about how forthcoming the folk icon is in the documentary.
Baez: What we talk about is my wanting to have left an honest legacy. I just figure that at my age and this point in my life, I have nothing to lose by just telling the truth; letting the wrinkles show.
Rothenberg Gritz: I think of folk music as being kind of the music of the people and the music of authenticity. I’m curious if part of what drew you to the genre was how it was the music of the people.
Baez: Of course. I was encouraged to sing opera by a number of people, at a number of stages in my life, and I would sing at home to my mother’s favorite opera singers and do duets with them and everything, but I never really wanted to pursue it. And it was the boots-on-the-ground aspect of folk music that drew me in. We used to call it “bubblegum music,” and folk music came along to combat that.
Rothenberg Gritz: A big turning point seems to have been the March on Washington. That was a huge, huge event that you were such an integral part of. How did that change your experience of what music was really for?
Baez: That movement, what I was involved in, started earlier, because I’d been going to hear King speak in these little towns and little churches, and I had already begun what … I think a lot of people, on that day of the speech, that it solidified a lot of their thoughts and feelings, and certainly after that, there wasn’t any question about the direction that I was going, who I was going with.
Klimek: For listeners who are just getting their first exposure to Joan Baez now, where would you recommend they start? If there’s one album, which one do you send them to?
Rothenberg Gritz: The album of original music that I think is the most iconic is Diamonds & Rust. Everyone loves that, because the title song is about Bob Dylan. It’s the best breakup song.
Rothenberg Gritz: The name that’s most often linked with Joan Baez is Bob Dylan, and that’s because she arguably really launched his career. She’s very humble and she says he would’ve been discovered either way, but in a very literal way, she found him at some small folk venues in Greenwich Village, and she brought him onstage where she had a huge following already, and she said, “Everyone, you’ve got to listen to this guy from Minnesota.” And people at first were like, “Who is this terrible singer? He plays three chords, he’s nothing like you.” And she said, “No, no, no, give him a chance.”
And they had a very interesting synergy, because she didn’t write most of her songs at that point. She was singing traditional folk songs, and he was, of course, writing these amazing, prophetic songs like “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall.” And she would then start to sing his songs, and they became part of the folk canon.
Klimek: This might be another example of a man getting more credit for something that a woman really initiated, right? I think it’s fair to say that Dylan’s fame eclipsed hers over time.
Rothenberg Gritz: It did, and that was a real breaking point in the relationship. She and Bob Dylan had a kind of tempestuous romance. It sounds like it was pretty short-lived, and he famously denied it. And a reporter asked him if they were together, and he said no, they were just friends, and she was devastated by that. Diamonds & Rust kind of summed up their relationship, where she says …
Rothenberg Gritz: “My poetry was lousy, you said.” I always think those two lines sum up her takeaway from the relationship.
Rothenberg Gritz (to Baez): I was struck that in the film, that there’s a painting you made of Dylan that’s in a very prominent place right above your piano, and he has a great look on his face.
Baez: It’s so Dylan, he’s so suspicious. He’s peering out: “What are they doing to me now?”
Rothenberg Gritz: What did you call him, Mr. Sunshine or Mr.—
Baez: Mr. Happy Face.
Rothenberg Gritz: Mr. Happy Face.
Baez: Yeah.
Rothenberg Gritz: I’m kind of curious, it’s a great picture, but why that’s the picture you want to be looking at when you’re making music at the piano? That face, that expression…
Baez: Oh, that changes. It changes from here to there, but whenever I’ve just finished something is when I hang it somewhere. And so that’s going on then, yeah.
Rothenberg Gritz: It’s interesting, because I think one reason people are fascinated by that synergy is you were the real activist, and you were the one who, all throughout your life, continued in that spirit. And really, he wrote a few songs that became important in the movement, but it doesn’t seem like he had the same kind of motivations that you did.
Baez: When you say that, I think maybe early on that he might have. But our big rift and that came partly because I was pushing. I wanted him to show up at marches and be political, and it just wasn’t his interest. I’m glad it wasn’t. He spent the time writing those songs we used, really. But I feel as though I’m sorry I was demanding so much of him, when it wasn’t where he wanted to be.
Rothenberg Gritz: That’s interesting. You used the phrase in the film that you became “addicted to activism,” which I’m curious what’s the difference between just earnestly trying to make the world better, and actually having an addiction to activism?
Baez: I didn’t realize that that was part of what was going on. No, it was definitely earnest, and it was definitely useful. But when I see the film, I see how much I was not there for my son. And for whatever reasons, I stayed out there.
Rothenberg Gritz: When you first started, folk music was very earnest and very pure, and there are people who started out that way and then got kind of trippy and groovy. I’m curious what that was like at the time, for you to see the grooviness and psychedelia kind of take over.
Baez: If I’d been a part of the psychedelia, I would’ve seen it differently. But I sort of divorced myself from it, partly because I was snooty, but partly because I just didn’t have a place there. If I had taken the drugs, I would’ve found some way, better way to relate to all of it.
Rothenberg Gritz: For those of us born afterward, it’s hard to imagine what it was like to grow up just after World War II and be the first kids growing up hiding under your desks. I know that you famously rebelled as a teenager and said, “This is ridiculous, if a nuclear war happens, this desk isn’t going to help us.” What do you think younger people don’t understand about that sense of urgency that you felt?
Baez: There’s plenty to feel urgent about now. Seriously, that looks like peanuts right now, compared to what’s going on now.
Rothenberg Gritz: There’s a song that’s sort of a deep cut that I hadn’t heard before until I started digging around recently, but that song “For the Children of the Eighties.” It came out in 1983, when I was 8 years old, and it’s such an interesting song.
Rothenberg Gritz: You sing, “We like the music of the ’60s. We think that era must have been nifty. Flower children, Woodstock and the war.” But that was a time when Reagan was kind of trying his best to erase the ’60s. It was their television shows like “Thirtysomething,” about activists growing up and becoming yuppies. And I’m curious what was going on for you? Just that aspect of dissociation and disillusionment of what was happening in society after the ’60s.
Baez: I think I was looking for a way to keep something alive. I wanted to find something for the kids of this generation that were floating around without a Vietnam and without a civil rights movement to center their thoughts and ideas of where they could be, and what they could be doing. So it was kind of to honor them, and listen to what I thought, probably, with their biggest complaints. I remember I told Bono, I said, “I got this song I want to do, sort of like ‘We Are the World.’” I thought, I’ve written this thing, and it’s really cool and it’s current. He’s so sweet, he said, “I’m busy. First of all, it has to be a really good song.” Because it wasn’t on that level. He is so kind.
Rothenberg Gritz: I’ve been to a lot of rallies in recent years, and when I was growing up, there were punk bands, or there were certain hip-hop bands that were political. But the impression I get from the film and other footage I’ve seen is that music was such a part of the political scene when you were part of it, and it doesn’t seem integrated in the same way.
Baez: It’s not. I got to say, somebody showed me, I didn’t go, but a video of Taylor Swift’s concert in Levi’s Stadium. There’s a hundred thousand screaming fans singing every single note. And she has shifted something in the whole industry. She’s a good, sweet person. And I saw some video of her having it out with her family, because she wanted to say something politically and they were saying, “Don’t do it.” And she was getting very weepy, because she didn’t want to have to fight for that right.
Taylor Swift’s dad: What if they write “Taylor Swift comes out against Trump”?

Swift: “I don’t care if they write that. I’m sad that I didn’t two years ago. This is something that I know is right.”

She then goes on to slam Marsha Blackburn.pic.twitter.com/20I937WJR5
So, it’s in there. But musically, it’s hard for me to connect. Now, my granddaughter’s into Phoebe Bridgers and Lana Del Rey, whom I know and love, and a lot of whose music I like, but I’m in another world, and I don’t pretend that I’m going to keep up with all this. And I was heartened by Pete Seeger, when somebody asked him what music he listened to, and he said he doesn’t unless he’s going to the ice rink with his grandchildren. That’s when he’s forced to listen to music.
Rothenberg Gritz: I love that. The film, of course, follows you on your last concert tour, and there’s this open question about how you’re going to feel when you stop touring. So now that it’s been a while, I’m curious whether the sense of freedom or the sense of loss is stronger?
Baez: I have not missed being on the stage for a second. I have missed occasionally having the voice be supple enough to say, “Oh yeah, I’ll get up and sing with so-and-so.” And being really uncertain if I can even do that. But as far as being on the road? No, no. I’m fine. And I am probably, in some ways, never been busier in my life. I’m just finishing editing a poetry book.
Rothenberg Gritz: That’s amazing. We get a sense from the film of this life where you take good care of yourself, you go swimming, you use the treadmill, you go for barefoot walks in big cities, which I love, the barefoot scenes. Do you feel like those things are kind of coming more into the foreground, now that you’ve completely let go of the public side of it, at least onstage?
Baez: There’s no pavement where I live, so I walk barefoot around my house and in the field across the street. I’m pretty countrified, and I don’t go very far. For the Covid years, I didn’t want to go anywhere. I couldn’t get enough of not tuning up the guitar and going back on tour.
Rothenberg Gritz: I’m curious: When you were young, did you have a sense of what kind of woman you would be at the age you are now, and do you think that you’re the way you would’ve imagined yourself to be?
Baez: I don’t think kids are capable of doing that. They just don’t look that far ahead. First of all, it’s too awful, right? My idea of the future was the following Wednesday, and that was more particular to me, too. I remember people would say, “Do you think you’re going to be famous? Do you think you’re going to do this and that?” I didn’t project when I was 16 or 17 years old. It was the following Wednesday that I was projecting into. And Karen [O’Connor, one of the documentary’s three directors and Baez’s longtime friend,] and I talk about it all the time, I have to laugh. This is not easy, this getting old business. Some people are really patronizing and they don’t realize it. I remember my mother in her 90s, and somebody was helping her to get into the car. Very nice guy. And he got her in the front seat, and he said, “There you go.” She said, “Don’t patronize me.” And I’ve had a couple of those, where I just want to haul off and whack somebody, but that’s their reaction to my age.
Rothenberg Gritz: I just wanted to ask one more question. We were talking about younger activists and all the issues in the world today, and I noticed you painted a beautiful picture of X González, who’s one of the activists from Parkland. How do you feel when you see these younger activists, and the sort of very, very complex, existential issues that they’re facing?
Baez: I think that it’s hard for a kid who blasts into this to realize that it’s going to take your whole life. You can’t go to school, and do your studies, and graduate and all that, and do this on the side. It’s full on. So, you sort of want to shake them and say, “Listen, it’s going to be a choice for you, and we’re lucky to have you, and you’re not going to be able to do all of this at once, and it’s risky. How are you going to keep it going? How are you going to keep your heart going, and your meditation going, and your caring going?” It ain’t easy.
Rothenberg Gritz: See, that’s also where the music seems so important, because that fuels people on a level that, without that, it seems like burnout is inevitable.
Joan Baez: I think so. And it’s interesting to watch the big rallies, because mostly people are using recycled Dylan songs.
Rothenberg Gritz: It’s true.
Baez: You know?
Rothenberg Gritz: Yeah. This generation maybe still has its voice to find, in that way.
Baez: And it’s impossible to write a “Blowin’ in the Wind.” The most difficult thing in the world, I think, to write in our genre is an anthem. And that’s needs an anthem, meaning that everybody recognizes it, and has their part to sing in it, and that doesn’t really exist at the moment, I don’t think.
Evelyn McDonnell: Being a music star in Joan Baez’s time, you might also engage in other activities, like film and fashion, which she did, to a small degree. But for her, her main other activities were politics with social activism. And that certainly still exists today as well. But now, music stars also are emperors of business empires, right?
Klimek: Evelyn McDonnell is a journalist who’s covered the music industry for decades.
McDonnell: They have fashion lines, and they have labels, and they have perfumes, and they have artists that they maybe help manage or produce. So it’s more of a business than a franchise.
Klimek: We called Evelyn to talk about how the music industry has changed for women artists over the years, and what audiences have come to expect from pop icons when it comes to political activism. We started by talking about Beyoncé and Taylor Swift.
McDonnell: Both of them came up in very conventional ways: being in a girl band; trying to get into Nashville, in Taylor’s case. They wanted stardom pretty explicitly, and they pursued it through the conventional industry ways. Not to say that Joan Baez didn’t want stardom, but she didn’t pursue it. It happened to her in a less purposeful way, let’s say.
Klimek: One thing she talked to us about was just the difficulty of writing an anthem like “Blowin’ in the Wind,” was one she went to specifically. So I feel like there’s kind of this paradox there, where it seems like songs with political subjects seem rarer, but direct political statements from artists seem, maybe, more common than in the past. Do you think there’s a tension there?
McDonnell: Interesting. For Joan, it seemed that music was hand-in-glove with culture and politics. And I think that Taylor and Beyoncé probably came to their politics, in part, through their experience of the music industry, and their experience of the world. I don’t think that explicitly was on their agendas to begin with. I think they wanted to be self-actualized artists, but they didn’t, maybe, realize crap they were going to encounter along the way from the music industry, and that politicized them, and that made Beyoncé perform in front of a sign saying “Feminist,” and Taylor take control of her own career. Her career is her masterpiece.
Klimek: Yeah. Can we say how the nature of political activism by musical artists has evolved over this 50-, 60-year stretch?
McDonnell: Right. Obviously the ’60s was a very political time, and leftist politics were very mainstream and guided the counterculture. For Beyoncé and Taylor, that kind of grew up in the age of Obama, the mainstream politics seemed OK, right? They weren’t writing protest music. Joan Baez was writing and singing protest music. But when Destiny’s Child sings a song like “Independent Women,” or even, to a degree, like “Bills, Bills, Bills,” there’s some sort of social consciousness going on there. I think they realized that that was part of the appeal: Women wanted them to express those concerns, but also that they were experiencing those concerns. And you so clearly see that in the kind of emancipation of Beyoncé over the years, and of Taylor Swift, also, absolutely. At the same time that they’ve taken control of their careers, they’ve also become more political.
Klimek: Do you think those two things are related? You said earlier how you think some of their political engagement maybe stemmed from their early experiences in the music industry.
McDonnell: Probably, yes, and I’ve been in the music industry for a long time as a journalist, and seeing the way that women get treated, and of course we’ve seen that come to the surface so prevalently in the last five years with the #MeToo movement, and how Taylor had to regain control of her music. Ironically, Beyoncé had to regain control of her career somewhat from her own father, right? Her own literal patriarch. So, they’re not the artists that are going to say, “Smash the patriarchy!” But in some ways, they did. And they also enabled an artist like Olivia Rodrigo, who probably will cut a track called “Smash the Patriarchy” in the next year.
Klimek: The “Formation” video really felt like an inflection point to me for Beyoncé, where she’s facing off against cops in riot gear. I was like, “Oh, wow, this isn’t subtext anymore,” when I saw that video.
McDonnell: Yeah. The impetus for that album is really her marriage to Jay-Z, and the problems of that marriage, right? So it’s very personal. It’s actually interesting to sort of compare Joan Baez and Bob Dylan, and Beyoncé and Jay-Z.
Klimek: Right!
McDonnell: Right? The power couples of their times in the music industry. But interestingly, whereas Dylan dumps Joan, and is kind of harsh, and then becomes much more famous, Jay-Z and Beyoncé have stayed together, and Beyoncé, I think, has eclipsed him.
Klimek: Yeah. And of course their relationship has played out very publicly, in a way that there was no ecosystem for that in Joan Baez’s time, right?
McDonnell: Yeah.
Klimek: I wonder how much of just being scrutinized around the clock, around the globe, changes your politics, changes your relationship with your audience?
McDonnell: You see that in the Joan Baez documentary, though. I think that for the time, she and Bob were pretty much in the public eye. I think they were actually at the kind of epicenter of this pop and political moment, and being at the March on Washington, and Beatlemania was happening as rock ’n’ roll was happening. It just was a much shorter amount of time that they were together in the public eye. I think the interesting thing about Beyoncé, and all pop stars today, we think that we know everything about them, but they’re really controlling what we see and we don’t see. When Beyoncé recorded Lemonade? She wanted to let us know that things were not great. But she did stand by her man, but she wasn’t just doing it quietly. [Swift’s ongoing] Eras [Tour] and Renaissance are carefully curated. They’re not displays of interiority. They’re very much displays of exteriority.
Klimek: I’m thinking here that part of the reason that Beyoncé and Taylor Swift, and other artists on or near that scale, are more powerful than they’ve been in the past is they have more economic power, more independence, and some of that is because they do endorsements. And I don’t want to lump Beyoncé and Taylor Swift necessarily together, because Beyoncé is kind of her own mogul and sells her own products, and Taylor Swift does, too, but she also does those credit card commercials. And that’s something that artists of Baez’s generation would probably not approve of. Do you think that’s fair to say?
McDonnell: Yeah, that is definitely a major cultural shift that’s happened over the decades. I do wonder—I have a kid who’s 20, I teach college students. I feel like they are becoming more politicized. The events of the last six years have had profound impacts on them, and I wonder if there is going to be a backlash. The dilution of the musical product by seeing it also as a product for shampoo and whatever. I do think my students also know the difference between what an indie artist is or what a noncommercial artist is. A lot of them, at least in college, go through a phase of preferring an indie artist, or one that doesn’t seem to belong to the world and to be on their TV all the time, and therefore not to belong to them in the same way. The Taylor Swift phenomenon particularly, it’s just so huge. Interesting to see what kind of political stance she takes in the next years, and what effect that has on her.
Klimek: Do you feel like we now sort of expect that artists who command this kind of audience will weigh in on political or social matters?
McDonnell: No. We’re so politicized as a country right now, we’re to the point where we even expect our pop stars to weigh in, but I don’t think that was at all a given. And I think that a lot of people would prefer to just have their music and not have to have their politics as well, even if, sometimes, that’s veiled, like country music. And also the internet kind of feeds that, right? The internet is like a bloodbath, right? It’s like a shark frenzy and it feeds on controversy, which, in a way, means Taylor Swift and Beyoncé have to be even more careful and strategic. Let’s think about what happened to the Dixie Chicks when they spoke about—
Klimek: Of course. “Shut up and sing.” Yeah. Yeah.
McDonnell: —politics. Yeah, yeah. So, there’s a price that women pay for mouthing off. And I guess if you’ve got as much money as Taylor Swift and Beyoncé have, you can pay the price.
Klimek: Yeah.
McDonnell: So, bring it on.
Klimek: This has been really fun. Thank you, Evelyn.
McDonnell: Thanks, Chris.
Klimek: We’ve used excerpts from the documentary Joan Baez: I Am a Noise, with permission from Magnolia Pictures and Mead Street Films. I Am a Noise is available on all the major platforms. If you’d like to check it out, you can find a link to the film’s website in our show notes.
Klimek: We’ve learned a lot about influential musicians in this episode, but did you know that sometimes recording artists help solve major crimes? You’ll find out more about that in this week’s dinner party fact.
Ted Scheinman: Hello, this is Ted Scheinman. I’m a senior editor at Smithsonian magazine, and I had a fascinating time editing this great feature about the most lucrative art fraud in history, still ongoing, whereby a bunch of Canadian fraudsters created perhaps around $100 million worth of fake canvases by the Indigenous artist Norval Morrisseau, one of Canada’s absolutely most esteemed artists. One of the reasons this case actually picked up steam in Canada is because of the deep commitment to Indigenous art of a man named Kevin Hearn, who’s the keyboardist and multi-instrumentalist in the band Barenaked Ladies, the Canadian band that had a hit with that song “One Week” in the 1990s.
And it’s very funny to me, and also a little bit troubling, because a lot of people ignored these art frauds for a really long time until Canada’s equivalent of Jimmy Page or Madonna stepped in and said, “Hey, I’m going to basically train myself to be a private investigator and learn to distinguish a true Morrisseau from a fake canvas.” And I love that. I don’t know what the equivalent would be in the U.S., but I just think it’s like if Mumford & Sons came out and said, “Hey, we need to take another look at some of these lithographs!” I’m not sure it would have the same weight.
Klimek: “There’s More to That” is a production of Smithsonian magazine and PRX Productions. From the magazine, our team is me, Debra Rosenberg and Brian Wolly. From PRX, our team is Jessica Miller, Genevieve Sponsler, Adriana Rozas Rivera, Ry Dorsey and Edwin Ochoa. The executive producer of PRX Productions is Jocelyn Gonzales. Our episode artwork is by Emily Lankiewicz. Fact-checking by Stephanie Abramson. Our music is from APM Music. I’m Chris Klimek. Thank you for listening.
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Chris Klimek is a writer and podcast host for Smithsonian.
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