Martin Luther King Jr's Relationship With Folk Icon Joan Baez Explained

Since its conception, modern folk music has been something of a sacred vessel for social and political commentaries to spread throughout the masses in the form of song. Artists like Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan used music to champion for the common man and denounce fascists with their words and melodies, and to their credit, they were able to raise awareness of things that were otherwise being totally ignored by the media. Take for instance Dylan's song "Hurricane" from 1976. It's a fierce, impassioned recounting of the heinous injustice leveled at legendary boxer Rubin Carter who, after being accused of a crime he didn't commit, spent two decades behind bars until he was finally exonerated. Sometimes, we truly do rely on songs to reveal those truths that certain people would prefer us not to see. 

However, while it's one thing to sing songs about the things you care for deeply, taking to the streets in solidarity with your brothers and sisters is something else entirely. Take, for instance, Joan Baez. According to Biography, the renowned folk icon has been as much an activist as she has been a singer and songwriter, and as it turned out, she had one particularly influential friend by her side during rallies and protests whose dream was bigger than most anyone else's. 

Joan Baez and Martin Luther King Jr.

"I was dissolved in tears for the whole speech, because I'd read about nonviolence, I knew about nonviolence, but they were doing it. They were walking in the streets and they were walking to their freedom." These were the words Joan Baez used to describe the first time she watched Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. deliver one of his monumental and unparalleled speeches on the issues of civil rights and equality (via a clip posted at Boys Who Said NO!). 

According to Biography, Baez and King developed a close friendship after he spoke at a conference she attended when she was little more than a teenager, and though he was only 27 at the time, he reportedly was able to enrapture and inspire her with words alone. For years after the fact, the two walked side-by-side in the streets and joined others in their quest to establish a new epoch in history; an epoch that would manifest Dr. King's fabled dream of liberty and justice for all. 

Theirs was a genuine friendship

Joan Baez Art shares that the folk singer and the civil rights leader brought the fight for equality to new heights together and could often be seen marching alongside one another during rallies. From the start, King recognized the drive and conviction that bloomed within Baez's eyes, and bringing it to life during his speeches was reportedly one of his favorite things to do. "They say he used to prolong his speeches about nonviolence when I was there because he loved to see me cry," she once said. 

However, it wasn't all just business. There was a tender playfulness at the center of their companionship that reflected a genuine love and appreciation for one another. Joan Baez Art reports that on one occasion, their team was preparing for a march in Grenada, Mississippi. Baez said that she walked into King's hotel room to wake him up (his plane had arrived late, so he was catching up on sleep), but he was so exhausted, he could barely pull himself off the mattress. Then, in a last ditch effort to summon her friend from his slumber, she's said to have started soulfully singing "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" to him. "He just rolled over and said, 'I think I hear the sound of an angel,'" she once shared. "Then he said, 'Let's have another one, Joan.' And he went back to sleep. It was very funny" (per Joan Baez Art).