The Texas-born singer became a superstar after a show-stopping performance at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967. At that time, she fronted the San Francisco-based band Big Brother and the Holding Company.
Big Brother’s “Piece of My Heart,” a single from 1968’s Cheap Thrills
, shot to the top of the charts and the album sold a million copies in a month. Joplin's departure from Big Brother and emergence as a solo star were inevitable; she put together her own outfit, the Kozmic Blues Band, and in 1969 released I Got Dem Ol' Kozmic Blues Again Mama!
, which immediately went gold. That year, she also gave a memorable performance at Woodstock.
After she died of a heroin overdose in 1970, Joplin became an even bigger star when Pearl
was released posthumously after her death. The album would pass the platinum mark.
Shows such as Love, Janis
, a biographical play which Joplin’s sister, Laura, helped create, and the Edinburgh Festival Fringe hit Janis
have chronicled her notorious past. A Night with Janis Joplin
, which opened three years ago on Broadway, also serves as a tribute. It comes to Connor Palace on Thursday, Nov. 9.
Kelly McIntyre, the actress and singer who portrays the raspy-voiced Joplin in the play, says she’s been singing her whole life. McIntyre, who grew up in the Boston area, gravitated to theater in high school.
“It just stuck since then,” she says in a recent phone interview when asked about her interest in rock 'n' roll and theater. “My dad played a lot of classic rock and definitely pop music around the house. He played a lot of music from the '70s and ’80s, and that’s what I grew up listening to.”
McIntyre joined the A Night with Janis Joplin
team two years ago when it went on the first national tour, which started right after a run on Broadway.
She prepped for the role by watching lots of vintage footage.
“Luckily, YouTube is around,” she says. “I watched a lot of videos of her concerts and interviews and just got ahold of her mannerisms that way. It was a little bit difficult, but I’ve always liked singing rock ’n’ roll, and I felt like I had more of an edgier side than most girls in musical theater. I thought I’d be a good fit for the part. I always liked her music, so I thought I’d give it a try. I sang in a seventh grade band but nothing professional. This was a new experience on many levels. Now, I love it, and it’s become one of the my favorite things.”
The women who performed in the play on Broadway helped her out as well.
McIntyre acknowledges that Joplin was one-of-a-kind. She embraced a sense of individualism that quickly made her a rock icon.
“I think the biggest part of it was that she didn’t care what people thought,” says McIntyre. “That mentality wasn’t popular back then. She always said that she spoke the truth and told it like it is. She didn’t care how she was perceived. She was just going to be herself. When she was back in Texas, she wasn’t the most popular, but she always knew who she was. The music scene gave her a better platform to be that person."
The play depicts Joplin's troubled childhood, a period during which she was bullied, and the start of her career.
“It goes back to the beginnings of everything, and she talks about the people who influenced her and her siblings and her hometown and how she got to where she did,” says McIntyre of the play's plot.
As much as the play provides a biographical overview, it also serves as a concert and features more than 20 songs, including both Joplin’s hits and songs by her influences. Four other women in the show portray musical inspirations such as Bessie Smith, Aretha Franklin and Etta James.
“I hope that people get rid of any preconceived notions and can see her as more than an addict and a girl who died too young,” says McIntyre. “She was more than that. The show focuses on her music and her legacy, and there are new facts about her childhood and life.”
McIntyre says that even high school kids identify with the show's themes and music.
“Yesterday, we had kids from a high school see the show, and they were saying how much they enjoyed the music and loved it. I think her lyrics and what she was singing about then are relatable to now. It’s the true definition of timeless music. I’ve met some people who have seen her perform live, and they said it was really unforgettable, which I can imagine. I hope to capture that energy with my performance.”
A Night with Janis Joplin, 8 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 9, Connor Palace, 1615 Euclid Ave., 216-241-6000. Tickets: $10-$59, playhousesquare.org.
Inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1995, singer Janis Joplin left behind a significant musical legacy in a remarkably short amount of time.