For more than five decades, Collins has been making a life in music, learning classical music and appearing with the Denver Symphony as a young woman, taking up the guitar in her late teens and becoming a leading light in the folk music revival of the 1960s, and by the 1970s forging a musical path which includes folk music of the British Isles and Ireland, music from singers and songwriters such as Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Ian Tyson, and Joni Mitchell, and adding in popular and classical music as well as eclectic selections from the likes of Jacques Brel and Steven Sondheim, along with her own songs on subjects including love, family, landscape, and politics. Collins has also worked in theater, written several books, and in recent years started her own record company, Wildflower Records.
One thread connecting all her musical work is love for a good song, and an adventurous spirit in seeking out just those songs to which she feels best able to give voice. Her second album, Golden Apples of the Sun, was named from the words of a poem by WB Yeats to which Collins gives a haunting traveler's journey. On Farewell to Tarwathie she pairs a traditional whaling song with actual whale songs from nature. Bob Dylan’s vivd images of love, grief, and longing in Tomorrow Is a Long Time are illuminated with understated grace while his rather different perspective on the same emotions in Daddy You’ve been on My Mind are equally well served in a paring which finds them side by side on Collins’ Fifth Album
Collins has often been early to record the work of little known artists who went on to wider recognition. Cohen, Mitchell, Randy Newman, Eric Andersen, and Billy Edd Wheeler are among these musicians. The breadth and depth of Collins gifts as a singer and as a chooser of song are indicated by the range of three of her best known radio hits: the pop song Send In the Clowns, folk songwriter Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now, and the traditional hymn Amazing Grace.
Most of Collins’ early work has been reissued in recent years, and is readily available. Judy Collins 3 & 4
and Very Best of Judy Collins
in addition to those albums linked above, are especially worth your attention.
aside: I’ve been fortunate enough to interview Judy Collins and to see her live in concert at several points in her career. If you have the chance to go to a Judy Collins concert, take it.
you may also wish to see
Music Road: Joanie Madden: Galway Afternoon
Music Road: Cathie Ryan: Songwriter
Music Road: Reflections with Mary Black