Janis Ian and Susan Werner
Now in her fifth decade of writing songs and performing, Janis Ian received her most recent Grammy nomination in 2016, making a total of 10 nominations over the years in 8 categories! (She lost to President Jimmy Carter.) Her last Grammy Award, presented at the 55th Annual Grammy Awards ceremony, was for Best Spoken Word Album for her audio book Society’s Child: My Autobiography (Audible.com). She had stiff competition -- President Bill Clinton, First Lady Michelle Obama, Rachel Maddow and Ellen DeGeneres. When she won, she sincerely considered it to be a “stunning upset.”
She wrote “Society’s Child,” her first hit, over 50 years ago at the age of fourteen. Some months later, in collaboration with producer Shadow Morton (The New York Dolls, The Shangri-las, “In a gadda da vida” with Iron Butterfly), she recorded “Society’s Child” and then her first album, Grammy nominee Janis Ian.
She has continued to place creativity first, saying of her early career, “"I wrote my first song at 12. Was published at 13. Made a record at 14, had a hit at 15, and was a hasbeen at 16. So 'At 17' means more to me than you can know."
“At Seventeen” became her trademark song, and along with the album it appeared on, earned five Grammy nominations, at that time more than any solo female artist had ever received. The song has since joined “Society’s Child” as inductees in the Grammy Hall of Fame.
As audiences will testify, Susan Werner has been knocking it out of the park – or concert hall – all around the US for twenty years. Renowned as a charismatic performer, she’s known above all for challenging herself to conquer new styles every few years. From her 1995 major label debut on BMG/Private Music, the folk/rock gem Last of the Good Straight Girls, to her 2004 Koch Records collection of Tin Pan Alley-styled originals I Can’t Be New, to her 2007 “agnostic gospel” hymnal The Gospel Truth, to 2013’s tribute to agriculture and her Iowa farm roots Hayseed, Werner’s creative restlessness has become her defining characteristic. “I like concept albums, because they provide a place for the audience and the artist to meet. You may not know me and I may not know you, but we both know something about a farmer’s market, about what it is to sit in a pew at church and wonder what life means, we both know something about falling in love and maybe falling back out again. I like to have a starting point for an evening’s conversation with an audience – it’s a great icebreaker.”
Her songs have been recorded by Tom Jones and Michael Feinstein, Broadway stars Betty Buckley and Christine Ebersole, and countless individuals and ensembles. In 2017 she released An American in Havana featuring songs written during two trips to Cube in 2015 and 2016. After writing twelve albums of songs in styles ranging from folk/rock to Tin Pan Alley to gospel, country and chamber music, what might a woman deemed by National Public Radio as “The Empress of the Unexpected” try next?