Let's Learn From the Past: Janis Joplin

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Known for her raspy voice, hippie fashion style and wild persona, singer Janis Joplin became a cultural icon during the late 1960s.

Joplin was born in Port Arthur, Texas, on Jan. 19, 1943. As a high school student, she enjoyed painting, but her discovery of blues and soul music inspired her to sing.

After taking classes at Lamar State College of Technology and the University of Texas in Austin, Joplin decided to drop out of college to pursue a career in music.

Feeling like an outsider in her home state, Joplin moved to San Francisco in 1963 at the suggestion of an acquaintance, Chet Helms, who told her about the city's liberated culture. Three years later, Helms managed a band called Big Brother and the Holding Company, and when the group wanted a female lead singer, he suggested Joplin.

Big Brother released its self-titled debut album in 1967 and found even greater success with the 1968 release of its second album, "Cheap Thrills." "Piece of My Heart" became the album's biggest hit, peaking at No. 12 on the Billboard Top 40 charts.

While the entire band was successful, Joplin captured the hearts of music fans with her unique voice and style. She didn't wear makeup but loved bright colors, patterns, fringe, beading and feather boas.

Wanting more creative control over her music, Joplin left Big Brother in December 1968 to form the Kozmic Blues Band. They played together at Woodstock in August 1969, but by the end of that year, the band dissolved.

Joplin and her new Full-Tilt Boogie Band went into the studio in August 1970 to begin her next album. On Oct. 1, 1970, she recorded vocals for the song "Mercedes Benz," which would become her final recording. Three days later, Joplin's road manager found her in her hotel room, dead of an accidental drug overdose at the age of 27.

Joplin's band and management decided to release the album she was working on calling it "Pearl," Joplin's nickname. After its release on Jan. 11, 1971, the album held the No. 1 position on the charts for nine weeks. It featured one of Joplin's most famous songs, "Me & Bobby McGee," her only single to reach the top spot on the Billboard chart.

Joplin was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995 and honored with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005.

Visitors to the Heinz History Center's new exhibition, "1968: The Year That Rocked America," can see Joplin's trademark feather boa and bellbottoms on display. Fans of her legendary fashion style will also enjoy the History Center's two-day Vintage Pittsburgh event this weekend, celebrating the style of the '60s. For more information, visit www.heinzhistorycenter.org.

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