Born in 1951 in New York, Ian entered the American folk music scene while still a teenager in the mid-1960s. Most active musically in that decade and the 1970s, she has continued recording into the 21st century. She has won two Grammy Awards, the first in 1975 for "At Seventeen" and the second in 2013 for Best Spoken Word Album, for her autobiography, Society's Child, with a total of ten nominations in eight different categories.
Ian is also a columnist and science fiction author.
Born in New York City, Janis Fink was primarily raised in New Jersey, initially on a farm, and attended East Orange High School in East Orange, New Jersey and the New York City High School of Music & Art. Her parents, Victor, a music teacher, and Pearl were Jewish-born liberals who ran a summer camp in upstate New York.
As a child, Ian admired the work of folk pioneers such as Joan Baez and Odetta. Starting with piano lessons at the age of two (at her own insistence), Ian, by the time she entered her teens, was playing the organ, harmonica, French horn and guitar. At the age of 12, she wrote her first song, "Hair of Spun Gold," which was subsequently published in the folk publication Broadside and was later recorded for her debut album. In 1964, she legally changed her name to Janis Ian, taking her brother Eric's middle name as her new surname.
At the age of 14, Ian wrote and recorded her first hit single, "Society's Child (Baby I've Been Thinking)", about an interracial romance forbidden by a girl's mother and frowned upon by her peers and teachers. Produced by George "Shadow" Morton and released three times from 1965 to 1967, "Society's Child" became a national hit upon its third release after Leonard Bernstein featured it in a CBS TV special titled Inside Pop: The Rock Revolution.