Ramblin' Rhodes: Grammy-winner Ian will fit in fine with Evans audience

Grammy Award-winning singer Janis Ian is looking forward to her first performance in the Augusta area next week.


“It looks like it will be a great, intimate theater,” Ian said about her show at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 30, in the 296-seat Jabez S. Hardin Performing Arts Center at the Columbia County Library in Evans.

Tickets cost $30 and $35 and are available online at augustaamusements.com.

Although Ian has not performed in the Augusta area before, she has a couple of close Augusta connections.

Augusta native Amy Grant recorded Ian’s song What About the Love on her 1988 Lead Me On album. And Ian sang backup for James Brown on his 1977 album The Best of James Brown.

In her 2008 book Society’s Child: My Autobiography, Ian tells of being asked to join another woman as backup vocalists for one of Brown’s recording sessions.

The singers arrived at the studio to find Brown sitting at the recording console. They were told they would be singing background for some tapes Brown had already recorded. So they were sent into a separate recording studio and started into the first song, When The Saints Go Marching In.

Ian said that halfway into the recording, Brown stopped the tape and came into the studio and said, “Ladies, if I wanted black chicks, I’d a-hired black chicks. Now do it again, and this time sound white!”

Apparently Brown liked their “white” sound and had them sing backup on other songs.

Just a few weeks ago, Ian won a Grammy, her second, for Best Spoken Word album for the CD version of her autobiography. Her competition in the category were CDs by Ellen DeGeneres, Rachel Maddow, Michelle Obama and Bill Clinton.

She received her first Grammy for Best Pop Female Vocalist in 1975 for her recording At Seventeen, a song she wrote about teenagers who don’t fit in with the popular crowd.

Some of the lines go:

To those of us who knew the pain

Of valentines that never came

And those whose names were never called

When choosing sides for basketball

It was long ago and far away

The world was younger than today

When dreams were all they gave for free

To ugly duckling girls like me.

Ian was inspired to write the song after she read in The New York Times about a debutante whose life didn’t turn out the way she planned. The opening line of the article said, “I learned the truth at 18.”

Ian changed the age to 17 because she thought it worked better.

The song was Ian’s second major hit and came almost 10 years after her attention-grabbing single Society’s Child, about an ill-fated interracial couple trying to find romance in the segregated 1960s.

Ian knows a lot about people who don’t understand others’ relationships. She and her life-partner, lawyer Patricia Snyder, plan to celebrate their 24th anniversary together in October.

They were married in 2003 at the Toronto, Ontario, city hall after a Canadian court ruled that same-sex marriage in the province was legal. She met Snyder through mutual friends in Nashville, Tenn., where Ian has lived since early 1989. Ian first came to Nashville in 1973 for a CBS Records convention and returned the next year to perform at the Exit Inn nightclub.

“People like Chet Akins embraced Pat from the first, and that took the issue away from us,” she noted. “And I think that theater and music people always have been considered to be a little different.”

She also said attitudes about interracial couples and same-sex couples have changed a lot in the decades since she recorded Society’s Child and At Seventeen.

“That is true all over the country and all over the world,” she added, “as you continue to get a younger population who just doesn’t care about things like that.”

She concedes there always will be racial and social prejudices and sometimes it is just not worth getting in an argument with someone who will not change their opinions. As she put it, “Sometimes you just don’t have a dog in that race.”

Opening for Ian will be Diana Jones, who, according to her Web site, was adopted by a chemical engineer and his wife and grew up in the Northeast with no art or music in the home.

She learned in her late 20s that her birth family came from the foothills of the Smoky Mountains in east Tennessee. She connected with her musical roots and biological family, especially her grandfather, Robert Lee Maranville, who had played guitar with Chet Atkins during Atkins’ early career around Knoxville.

Jones’ third album, High Atmosphere, was produced by Ketch Secor of the Old Crow Medicine Show band.


WHO: Janis Ian

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 30

WHERE: J.S. Hardin Performing Arts Center, 7022 Evans Town Center Blvd.

TICKETS: $30, $35, augustaamusements.com