Little Girl Blue: The Rise of Janis Joplin

By Shannon Stockwell 

Kacee Clanton as Janis Joplin in A Night with Janis Joplin.
Photo by Mark and Tracy Photography.
Singer Janis Joplin—the focus of A Night with Janis Joplin, opening at The Geary Theater on June 7—is often hailed as the first female sex symbol in rock and roll. She paved the way for female singers to break down barriers of sexism in the music industry. But before she became a feminist icon, her folksy, bluesy tone formed the soundtrack to the 1967 Summer of Love.

Joplin first heard of the San Francisco music scene while staying with her aunts in Los Angeles in 1962. But it wasn’t until music promoter Chet Helms passed through Texas and heard Joplin perform that she became determined to try her hand at singing professionally.

The music scene in 1963 San Francisco had not yet moved to the neighborhood of Haight-Ashbury, which would have its heyday later; it was still largely in North Beach, which was populated by beat writers and folk musicians. Joplin performed at small gigs around the city and began to gain a fanbase.
After a brief return to Texas, Joplin returned to San Francisco and auditioned for a band: Big Brother and the Holding Company. The members of the band were blown away by her gritty, soulful voice. She was hired immediately, and within six days of arriving in San Francisco, she was performing with Big Brother.

With Big Brother, Joplin’s fame skyrocketed. The band played at the Monterey International Pop Festival in June 1967 and was the only act to get an encore performance. By the end of 1967, it was making $2,500 a show, which was unheard of for a band that hadn’t yet released a full album. Cheap Thrills, featuring “Piece of My Heart” and “Summertime,” would be released in 1968.

A Night with Janis Joplin runs June 7–July 2. Click here to purchase tickets through our website. Want to learn more about Janis Joplin and the Summer of Love? Click here to purchase Words on Plays, A.C.T.'s in-depth performance guide series.

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