Janis Lyn Joplin (January 19, 1943 – October 4, 1970) was born in Port Arthur, Texas to Dorothy Bonita East (1913–1998), a registrar at a business college, and her husband, Seth Ward Joplin (1910–1987), an engineer at Texaco. She had two younger siblings, Michael and Laura. The family belonged to the Churches of Christ denomination.
Her parents felt that Janis needed more attention than their other children. As a teenager, Joplin befriended a group of outcasts, one of whom had albums by blues artists Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, and Lead Belly, whom Joplin later credited with influencing her decision to become a singer. She began singing blues and folk music with friends at Thomas Jefferson High School.
Janis Joplin’s high school photo, 1960.
Janis Joplin stated that she was ostracized and bullied in high school. As a teen, she became overweight and suffered from acne, leaving her with deep scars that required dermabrasion. Other kids at high school would routinely taunt her and call her names like “pig,” “freak,” “nigger lover,” or “creep.” She stated, “I was a misfit. I read, I painted, I thought. I didn’t hate niggers.”
Joplin graduated from high school in 1960 and attended Lamar State College of Technology in Beaumont, Texas, during the summer and later the University of Texas at Austin (UT), though she did not complete her college studies. The campus newspaper, The Daily Texan, ran a profile of her in the issue dated July 27, 1962, headlined “She Dares to Be Different.” The article began, “She goes barefooted when she feels like it, wears Levis to class because they’re more comfortable, and carries her autoharp with her everywhere she goes so that in case she gets the urge to break into song, it will be handy. Her name is Janis Joplin.”
Joplin in 1960 as a graduating senior in high school.
While at UT she performed with a folk trio called the Waller Creek Boys and frequently socialized with the staff of the campus humor magazine The Texas Ranger. According to Freak Brothers cartoonist Gilbert Shelton, who befriended her, she used to sell The Texas Ranger, which contained some of Shelton’s early comic books, on the campus.