Faster than you can say “Me & Bobby McGee,” A Night with Janis Joplin has blazed its way to Broadway's Lyceum Theatre, where the biographical musical open on October 10. Mary Bridget Davies stars as the legendary rock star, whose meteoric rise to fame and tragic death at age 27 made her an enduring icon. Joplin’s personal history is well known: her rise from small-town painter to big-time singer; her struggle with drug abuse; her electric stage presence and unforgettable screech. But did you know these 10 fascinating facts about the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer?
1. Born in Port Arthur, TX, in 1943, Janis Joplin began writing plays in the first grade, and would gather her friends and neighbors to stage them in a backyard puppet theater that her father built for her. She also sang in the church choir.
2. Joplin’s school years in the 1950s were rough: Her unglamorous appearance made her the butt of jokes, and her pro-integration comments caused bullies to follow her around and call her ‘n----r-lover.’ At the University of Texas, Joplin (originally an art student) was nominated for Ugliest Man on Campus, a fraternity prank that spurred her decision to drop out in 1963.
3. Though she grew up listening to classical music, Joplin gravitated to African-American singers like Odetta, Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey and Billie Holiday. She never forgot the women who influenced her: In 1970, Joplin paid for a new tombstone for Smith, who died in 1937 and had been buried in an unmarked grave.
4. One of Joplin’s first attempts to sing in public was on New Year’s Eve 1962. She performed at a club and “was met with the limpest response and applause that crackled about as loudly as crumbling old yellow paper,” according to her biographer and close friend Myra Friedman.
5. In 1962, Joplin laid down her first-ever recording: a commercial for a bank in Nacogdoches, TX. She sang a jingle to the tune of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land,” except the lyrics were “This bank is your bank, this bank is my bank.”
6. Joplin was bisexual, with numerous male and female lovers. She was “less open about the women, though not exactly secretive,” wrote Friedman. The singer was drawn to gay bars in New Orleans and the lesbian crowd in Beaumont, TX.
7. On August 16, 1969, three years after her breakthrough as lead singer with Big Brother and the Holding Company, Joplin became one of the biggest stars at Woodstock. Waiting 10 hours to go on, she drank and took heroin, and was so unhappy with her performance that she refused tolet it be used in the documentary film or soundtrack of the iconic festival.
8. A 1969 Rolling Stone cover line read “Janis Joplin: The Judy Garland of Rock?” Joplin was insulted by the article. Eerily, Garland died from drugs and alcohol three months after the article appeared, and Joplin died a year and a half later.
9. Joplin didn't live to experience her biggest hit, "Me and Bobby McGee," from the posthumously released album Pearl. She died in a Hollywood motel on October 4, 1970, from a combination of heroin and alcohol. Her band, producer and friends were waiting for her in the studio to record a song called “Buried Alive in the Blues.”
10. After Joplin's death, her ashes were scattered over the Pacific Ocean. In her will, she left her executor $2,500 to throw a massive party for her loved ones, described as “a gathering of my friends and acquaintances at a suitable location as a final gesture of appreciation and farewell.”