December 16, 2023

Iconic folk singer Judy Collins makes her way to Spruce Peak Arts on Thursday, December 21st! Before an intimate night of Collins’ biggest hits through the years, including “Send in the Clowns” and “Both Sides, Now”, take a look back on the musician’s legendary career.

Collins was born on May 1, 1939 in Seattle, Washington. Her father – who was blind – was a singer, pianist, and local radio host. Collins started learning piano from her father at the age for three. In 1949, the family moved from Seattle to Denver so her father could find more work; it was there that she began taking piano lessons from Dutch-born conductor Antonia Brico. Collins was a piano prodigy, with Brico remarking that sh was her brightest pupil. Soon after, Collins discovered the folk music of Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, igniting a passion for lyrical storytelling. This interest in folk music discontented Antonia Brico, leading Collins to the difficult decision to stop her piano lessons. Years later, after she reaching mainstream success, Collins invited Brico to one of her concerts in Denver. After the show, Brico took Collins hands in hers and, looking at Collins’ fingers, said pensively, “Little Judy – you really could have gone places.”


Collins moved to New York City in the early 1960s, playing in clubs like Gerde’s Folk City before signing with Elektra Records, a label she remained associated with for 35 years. In 1961, she released her debut album, “A Maid of Constant Sorrow,” at the age of 22, initially focusing on traditional folk songs and works by protest songwriters like Tom Paxton, Phil Ochs, and Bob Dylan. Notably, Collins recorded songs by emerging artists such as Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, and others before they gained widespread recognition. She is often credited for helping these smaller artists find a larger audience using her platform. In 1967, Collins received her first Grammy Award for a cover of Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now”.

The 1970s was arguably Collins most successful and productive decade. Collins recorded the traditional hymn “Amazing Grace”, which became a top 20 hit in the U.S. and the U.K. In 1971, she released the live album “Living,” followed by the compilation “Colors of the Day: The Best of Judy Collins” in 1972. Her ninth studio album, “True Stories and Other Dreams” (1973), delved into contemplative themes, including a reflection on the life of controversial figure Che Guevara. Her tenth studio album, “Judith” (1975), produced by Arif Mardin, featured her most significant hit, a mournful rendition of “Send in the Clowns.” “Send in the Clowns” once again charted in the top 20 of both the U.S. and the U.K. “Judith” quickly Collins most successful selling album, and “Send in the Clowns” earned Sondheim the prestigious “Song of the Year” Grammy Award, despite being written for the musical “A Little Night Music” in 1973.

In addition to her musical successes, Collins produced and directed a documentary about her former piano teacher, Antonia Brico, named “Antonia: A Portrait of the Woman.” The film was nominated for “Best Documentary Feature” at the 1975 Academy Awards. Lastly, Collins appeared on Jim Henson’s programs Sesame Street and The Muppet Show, which was a cultural phenomenon at the time.

In the 1980s, Judy Collins faced a decline in sales despite crafting well-received critical albums like “Running for My Life” (1980) and “Times of Our Lives” (1982). She started embracing the synth-heavy sound of the 1980s and 1990s for her music, and she began a new career as a writer. Her first book, Trust Your Heart, was published in 1987. She has since written eight books, including her own memoir Sweet Judy Blue Eyes: My Life in Music(2011).

Throughout the 2000s, Collins maintained an active release schedule for her albums and books. Collins received honorary recognition from Pratt Institute in 2008. In 2016, she collaborated on the album “Silver Skies Blue” with singer-songwriter Ari Best, earning them both a nomination for Best Folk Album at the 2016 Grammys. It was Collins first Grammy nomination in over 40 years. Collins followed that success with another Grammy nomination for her album “Spellbound.”

In total, Collins has released 36 studio albums, 9 live albums, 24 compilation albums, 9 books, and an Oscar nominated documentary feature. She has received 7 Grammy nominations, winning 1 award, and received numerous Lifetime Achievement Awards from organizations such as the Americana Music Association, BBC Radio, the UK Americana Awards, and more. Her rendition of “Amazing Grace” was preserved the National Recording Registry at the Library of Congress in 2017. Now 84 years old, Collins still tours regularly, returning to New York City when she is not on the road.

Want to know more about Judy Collins? You can visit her website,, for even more info on the acclaimed singer.

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