It started with the promise of a Fourth of July folk-rock concert in Leningrad, starring Joan Baez, Santana and the Beach Boys. Then, without explanation, Soviet officials called the concert off. But Baez had already spent a month studying Russian and had put her 8-year-old son, Gabriel, in summer camp. Besides, the main reason she wanted to visit the Soviet Union was to see dissident scientist Andrei Sakharov and his wife. So Baez packed her guitar and went anyway.
On her second night in Moscow Baez and two friends drove to the Sakharovs’ tiny apartment. “We brought them messages from their relatives in the U.S. and gifts for their grandchildren,” says the singer. “We had baby clothes and goodies and mail. It was very moving.” Though Sakharov and Baez had never met, she had telephoned him from Palo Alto, Calif. three years ago. “It was a Tuesday—that’s when he and his wife always stay home to receive calls,” Baez says. “I sang We Shall Overcome and yelled my name and hung up. He remembered, so I sang it for him again.”
Welcoming her in beat-up loafers, a sweater and jogging pants, Sakharov struck Baez as “your basic absent-minded professor.” They quickly reached a genial detente. “I always end up talking about violence and nonviolence,” says Baez. “It was a fascinating discussion, and I thought it was good of him to put up with it. Of course, he didn’t agree with me on half the stuff—he is so anti-Soviet. But I felt real vulnerability. I was so touched by the Sakharovs’ bravery. All I really wanted to do was deliver the things, talk and let them know I cared. I have a huge respect for them.”
After conversation came dinner—sardines, cheese, brown bread, cherries and sweets. Then Baez sang. “The Sakharovs can’t telephone out of the country anymore, and their apartment is completely bugged and constantly watched,” she says. “The most touching thing was after I had finished singing. Sakharov said, ‘I hope they [the KGB] enjoyed it too.’ ”
Baez, regarded by Soviet officials as anti-American, believes she would have left authorities there in a lather had she delivered the praise of Soviet dissidents as planned for the concert. Though angered by the abrupt cancellation, she hopes to visit Russia again. “My orientation is pro-human,” she says. “It doesn’t matter where those humans are. I want to go back.”