Joan Baez Honored As Amnesty International Marks 50 Years

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Joan Baez performs during a concert for folk music legend Pete Seeger at Madison Square Garden in New York on May 3, 2009. (Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images)

Joan Baez performs during a concert for folk music legend Pete Seeger at Madison Square Garden in New York on May 3, 2009. (Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images)

SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS) – Bay Area music legend Joan Baez will be honored at the San Francisco gathering this weekend to mark Amnesty International’s 50th anniversary. The celebration was set to take place at the group’s annual, three-day general meeting.

The folk singer and activist was to receive the inaugural Amnesty International Joan Baez Award for Outstanding, Inspirational Service in the Global Fight for Human Rights. A ceremony in her honor was planned for Friday evening at the Fountain Room at San Francisco’s Fairmont Hotel.

KCBS’ Rebecca Corral Reports:

The Staten Island, NY native and current Woodside resident became perhaps one of the most recognized “faces” of the group in the 1970s, though Amnesty International had actually been working for human rights all over the world for several years before Baez took an active role in the organization. And, the legendary folk singer readily admitted that it happened quite by accident.

“I got involved because I had a woman knock on my door and ask me if I would help out with this group I’d never heard of. And she started showing me pictures of political prisoners,” Baez recounted. “So I went up and down the coast … and we formed groups and Amnesty works in groups of 8 or 10 people who are like-minded and live near each other and they adopt political prisoners.”

By then, Baez was an established, worldwide performer. Even though she did not seek out the group, she readily embraced it, using her voice and influence to spread the word about the organization, which is committed to freeing political prisoners and working for human rights.

“Because I have access to 2,000 people at a time it was certainly my good luck to be able to speak that way and to say, for instance, to put a table in the lobby and that we still do, make sure in the lobby of the concerts there is somebody representing Amnesty,” Baez said.

Her level of involvement in the group has waned over the years, but her passion for the group clearly has not.

“They’d do anything they can with their imagination and their intelligence to find ways to free that prisoner,” Baez fondly recalled. “Sometimes even sending enough mail that some jailers sitting in the middle of Bolivia thinks what in the hell is going on and sometimes it’s nerve-wracking enough that they just let the prisoner go.”

The organization’s annual general meeting would continue through the weekend, with speeches expected from Grammy winner Saul Hernandez, journalist Lydia Cacho and DREAM Act advocate Luis Perez. There was also going to be a briefing on “Human Rights Crisis Affecting Latino Migrants and Women.”

(© 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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