The year that Judy Collins
was born, the song “Over the Rainbow” became a hit in the movie The Wizard of Oz.
Her parents named her after the
girl who sang that song – Judy Garland. Collins opens her latest
album, Paradise, with the same song.
She draws songs from a
variety of sources. Paradise includes the old traditional song “Dens of Yarrow,”
songs by Joan Baez and Jimmy Webb, and a recent song by Amy Speace, "Weight of the World."
Collins says that, "The song stands on its own, unrelated to the writer,
and unrelated it its beginnings, to me, because the song has to make its own
way through the world and find out where it’s supposed to be sung."
"I have made my career singing the songs of other
artists and making them famous, as performers, starting actually with Randy
Newman, in 1966. But then I was
encouraged by Leonard Cohen to start writing my songs, which I did in 1967, and
ever since then I’ve struggled with that, which is something we all work on and
do our best to create something that is stable and good enough to be recorded
by other people."
Collins began her career
focusing on folk music in the 1960s, singing protest songs with Pete Seeger,
Woody Guthrie, and Bob Dylan. Even as times and styles have changed, she still
considers herself an idealist and an activist. She continues because, "The problems are still there. The issues are still there, the issues of
human rights, of children’s rights, the rights of minorities, the rights of
animals. And of course, the wars go on, and there’s never any time it seems in
history, where there wasn’t something to sing about in terms of violence in the
She describes activism as
part of being a musician and an artist. "If you’re an artist, you’re doing something political,
you’re doing something extraordinarily important, you’re doing something
revolutionary. As long as you continue
to be an artist, that’s your path, whatever that takes you to. But it is an
aggressive statement, of a difference of opinion, if you will, about what’s
In addition to touring, Collins is currently editing a book, and
writing more songs. "It’s a great privilege to make your way in the world
as an artist. I think it’s a rare privilege to have 50 years in an industry in
which there are so many burnouts and deaths and faltering footsteps, and I’ve
been lucky, I’ve had a lot of all those things in my life, but I don’t know
whether it’s genetic or just stubbornness, but I just keep going on."
Judy Collins performs on Mountain Stage on Sunday at the Clay Center in Charleston.