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Banned by Army: Folk Singer Joan Baez Can’t Sing to Wounded Soldiers at Walter Reed

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The Army has denied legendary folk singer and antiwar activist Joan Baez permission to sing at a concert for wounded soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. We speak with Baez at her home in Palo Alto. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Legendary folk singer and antiwar activist Joan Baez has been denied permission to sing at a concert for wounded soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. In a letter to The Washington Post published Wednesday, Baez said rocker John Mellencamp had asked her to perform with him last Friday and that she accepted his invitation. But then the Army subsequently refused to let her take part. Mellencamp told that when they asked why, the reply they got was, “She can’t fit here.”

AMY GOODMAN: In an emailed statement published Monday on, Walter Reed spokesman Steve Sanderson said the medical center received the request for participation by Baez two days before the concert. He said, “These additional requirements were not in the contract and would have required a modification.”

Well, we called Joan Baez at her home in Palo Alto, and she described what happened.

JOAN BAEZ: When I got back from touring in Europe, which is why I didn’t know anything any sooner, my manager called and said that I had been invited by John Mellencamp to be a guest at his concert at Walter Reed Hospital. And my response was just kind of intuitive or instinctive, the way my responses usually are, and I said yes, and later on thought about why I had said yes, because I usually am sort of very — run very shy of “singing to the troops.” But I realized that singing to the troops during a war, what I call a Bob Hope syndrome, is really condoning the war, and I’ve always had an aversion to the idea of singing to some kid who’s going to go out and get his brains blown out the next day. I feel as though I should have been sitting there pleading with him to go home.

However, when they got home, either they, I mean, a lot of times received a hostile reception, and for the most part just were ignored, and I think we are still seeing the results of their pain. And so, I thought, well, you know, this is one small way to show a welcome before the fact.

AMY GOODMAN: And so, you agreed. Now, these are people — at Walter Reed, these are people have come home wounded.

JOAN BAEZ: That is correct.

AMY GOODMAN: So you agreed.

JOAN BAEZ: Yeah. And then — so, I guess, Mark, my manager and Mellencamp’s manager began talking on the phone, because probably the greatest red tape in the history of the world would be the military, but it seemed to be developing in a positive way. So — and then Mark would check with me, and he said, “Are you still on for this?” And I’d say yes. And this went on for, what, a month? And there was, I think, five days, about five days before the concert, and I was — I did have a flight booked and a hotel booked and the final agreement, yes. Maybe four days before the concert, then I was told that I was not approved.

AMY GOODMAN: For what reason, were you told? What were you given as the reason?

JOAN BAEZ: Well, not — I mean, all I know — and it was Mellencamp’s manager who did all the talking. He went there and talked face to face to somebody. I don’t know whom. And he could not get an answer that made any sense to him from anybody. So all they could say was that I wasn’t approved.

AMY GOODMAN: John Mellencamp wrote on or told them, “They didn’t give me a reason why she couldn’t come. We asked why, and they said 'she can't fit here,’ period.”

JOAN BAEZ: Yeah, and he heard that and I didn’t, so that’s why I don’t quote it.

AMY GOODMAN: And what is your response to that?

JOAN BAEZ: Well, I’m not terribly surprised, although I did think, because of what’s going on, that the turmoil in this country and the changes, which have been fairly rapid, of the majority of the population really not wanting this war and generals popping up from here and there refusing to go and have any part of it or openly criticizing it or saying that “it is a scenario that is absolutely impossible, and I’ll have nothing to do with it,” that maybe, you know, the winds of war had switched a little bit, and maybe there was some people in that — in Walter Reed, especially because of the scandal, who would like to sort of change the course of things, and for that reason I might be let in.

AMY GOODMAN: And so, the fact that you can’t sing there, what are your plans? Or that you couldn’t?

JOAN BAEZ: Well, I mean, I’m going on living my life. And today and probably tomorrow, I’m just sitting by the phone, because in a sense this is better than my having gone there — I mean, in a sense, because I’m allowed now to tell this story over and over to people who are interested in it.

AMY GOODMAN: You recorded a song with John Mellencamp?

JOAN BAEZ: Yeah, on his last album.


JOAN BAEZ: “Jim Crow.”

AMY GOODMAN: What are your thoughts, Joan Baez, on an artist’s role in a time of war?

JOAN BAEZ: Well, they’re what they always have been. I must tell you that now I’m spending a lot of time with my family. I gypped them out of a lot of time in the ’60s and ’70s, and I now have a grandchild. My father just died. He was 94. And my mother is 94. So, hard as it is for people to imagine me doing anything but leading a march, I have been spending this time with my family or touring.

AMY GOODMAN: Joan Baez, speaking from her home in Palo Alto. The U.S. Army has said that she cannot sing at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center for the wounded soldiers. She was invited by John Mellencamp.

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