Bob Dylan's Life in Photos

Recognized as a legacy writer, a folk protest hero and a voice of a generation, singer-songwriter Bob Dylan has solidified his status as a cultural and musical icon since the 1960s. Take a look back at photos of the legendary performer's illustrious career

Bob Dylan Life in Photos
Photo: Larry Hulst/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty
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Bob Dylan's Early Life

Bob Dylan Life in Photos
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Bob Dylan was born Robert Allen Zimmerman on May 24, 1941, and raised by a close-knit Jewish family in Hibbing, Minn. Dylan's love for music started young, as he grew up listening to a variety of genres on the radio, including blues and rock and roll.

Dylan played in several bands throughout high school and college, performing covers of songs by artists such as Little Richard and Elvis Presley, before transitioning into American folk music.

Around that time, he began introducing himself as "Bob Dylan" and legally changed his name in 1962 while living in New York City.

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Bob Dylan's Record Deal

Bob Dylan Life in Photos
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At the end of Dylan's first year at the University of Minnesota, he dropped out of college and moved to New York City in May 1960. He not only relocated to perform but to also visit his musical idol, Woody Guthrie.

In 1961, Dylan performed independently at clubs around Greenwich Village, in addition to accompanying other musicians on harmonica. His harmonica playing eventually caught the attention of producer John Hammond (pictured with Dylan), who signed him to Columbia Records in 1962.

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Bob Dylan's Breakthrough Album

Bob Dylan Life in Photos
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Following his record deal, Dylan released his debut, eponymousalbum in March 1962. It wasn't until the release of his second album, and the help of newly-signed manager Albert Grossman, that he began to create a name for himself as a singer-songwriter.

Titled The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, the record consisted of several tracks labeled as protest songs due to their underlying political and social themes and lyrics (partly inspired by Guthrie).

The lead song "Blowin' in the Wind" is in part derived from the African American spiritual, "No More Auction Block," while "A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall" eluded to an impending apocalypse amid the Cuban Missile Crisis.

The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan not only experimented with different sounds, like rockabilly and blues, but the album's songs established Dylan as the voice of his generation as his lyrics resonated with listeners and understood Americans' concerns on political and social issues of the day.

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Bob Dylan's Protest Period

Bob Dylan Life in Photos
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While protesting has frequently been a prominent theme in Dylan's music, it became a big part of his identity in 1963, primarily after he walked out of The Ed Sullivan Show when he refused to comply with CBS censorship after they deemed his "Talkin' John Birch Paranoid Blues" potentially libelous to the John Birch Society, a political advocacy group.

As an established figure in the Civil Rights Movement, Dylan performed alongside Joan Baez at the 1963 March on Washington in August. In January 1964, he released a political-heavy third album titled The Times Are a-Changin' that birthed the anthemic title song, in addition to tracks such as "Only a Pawn in Their Game" and "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll."

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Bob Dylan's Newport Folk Festival Gig

Bob Dylan Life in Photos
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Regarded as an acoustic troubadour and a leading light in the revival of folk music, Dylan shocked audiences when he "went electric" during his Newport Folk Festival headlining performance in 1965.

Before the gig, he had released Bringing It All Back Home and had recorded the majority of Highway 61 Revisited — two works that had introduced electric sounds and rock accompaniment to his music, with the latter featuring his hit "Like a Rolling Stone."

Dylan recruited members of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band to join him on stage at the festival to recreate the electric sounds heard on his aforementioned albums. They were allegedly booed off stage by the traditionalist, folk-minded crowd when they began "Like a Rolling Stone."

A pivotal moment in rock history, the musician's decision to pick up the electric guitar unsettled the crowd in which many believed his choice to "go electric" betrayed traditional folk music.

While there are varying accounts as to what exactly went down during their performance in 1965, especially regarding the reason behind the band's decision to leave after three songs, Dylan did return to the stage with an acoustic guitar to play "Mr. Tambourine Man," and was greeted with tremendous applause.

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Bob Dylan's 'Like a Rolling Stone' Successes

Bob Dylan Life in Photos
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Despite the song's initial hostile response, Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone" peaked at No. 2 on the U.S. chart in 1965 and hit No. 1 twice on Rolling Stone's list of "The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time" (before the outlet updated the list in 2021).

Clocking in at over six minutes long, "Like a Rolling Stone" is the lead-off song of Dylan's 1965 Highway 61 Revisited album. Since its release, it has become one of his most acclaimed hits and has been covered by the likes of Jimi Hendrix, The Rolling Stones and Green Day.

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Bob Dylan's Concert for Bangladesh Performance

Bob Dylan Life in Photos
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty

Following Dylan's unpredictable music phase, the 1970s saw Dylan revert to his traditional style, including the release of New Morning, featuring "Day of the Locusts" (accounting his cicada-filled experience at Princeton University where he received an honorary degree).

After collaborating with The Beatles' George Harrison on various songs, such as "I'd Have You Anytime" in 1968, Dylan made a surprise guest appearance at Harrison's 1971 Concert for Bangladesh.

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Bob Dylan's Return to Touring

Bob Dylan Life in Photos

Throughout the 1970s, Dylan toured the world. In 1974, Dylan joined with old partners The Band for a two-month, 40-show concert tour. Also commonly referred to as Tour '74, it marked his first tour in eight years.

Dylan embarked on another tour in 1975, titled the Rolling Thunder Revue, featuring musicians from the New York Greenwich Village folk scene, including artists such as Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez and more.

In 1978, he took off on a year-long world tour alongside an eight-piece band and three backing singers. Dylan and his band traveled to Asia, Europe, Oceania and North America to perform a total of 114 shows.

09 of 15

Bob Dylan's Christian Music

Bob Dylan Life in Photos
Larry Hulst/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty

After converting to Evangelical Christianity, Jewish-raised Dylan entered a new musical phase as he released three contemporary gospel music albums between 1979 and 1981: Slow Train Coming, Saved and Shot of Love.

The single "Gotta Serve Somebody," off Slow Train Coming, won a Grammy for best male rock vocal performance in 1980.

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Bob Dylan's Grammy Award Wins

Bob Dylan Life in Photos
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Throughout his career, Dylan has been awarded 10 Grammy wins out of his 38 nominations. He received his first Grammy as a featured artist on The Concert for Bangladesh record in 1973's album of the year category but also won his first solo Grammy for "Gotta Serve Somebody" in 1979's best rock vocal performance, male category.

Dylan was also honored with the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, which was presented to him by actor Jack Nicholson in 1991.

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Bob Dylan's Hall of Fame Inductions

Bob Dylan Life in Photos
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Bruce Springsteen inducted Dylan into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in January 1988. In his speech, Springsteen not only praised Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone," but also compared him to the King of Rock and Roll himself.

"Bob freed your mind the way Elvis [Presley] freed your body. He showed us that just because music was innately physical did not mean that it was anti-intellectual," Springsteen said.

Dylan was also inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

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Bob Dylan's Academy Award Win

Bob Dylan Life in Photos

Dylan received an Oscar in the Best Original Song category for his song, "Things Have Changed," from the film Wonder Boys in 2001.

"I want to thank the Academy who were bold enough to give me this award for this song, a song which obviously doesn't pussyfoot around or turn a blind eye to human nature," Dylan said in his acceptance speech at the 73rd Academy Awards.

He also took home the Golden Globe that year in the same category.

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Bob Dylan's Presidential Medal of Freedom Honor

Bob Dylan Life in Photos

In 2012, former President Barack Obama awarded Dylan with the prestigious Presidential Medal of Freedom, "the country's highest civilian honor," according to the U.S. government's official site.

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Bob Dylan's Accolades and Honors

Bob Dylan Life in Photos
Bob Dylan. Michael Kovac/WireImage

Throughout Dylan's career, he has received many awards and accolades. In 2015, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences honored him as the MusiCares Person of the Year.

In 2016, Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for "having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition," per the official Nobel Prize Committee.

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Bob Dylan's Rough and Rowdy Ways

Bob Dylan performs on a double bill with Neil Young at Hyde Park on July 12, 2019 in London, England
Bob Dylan. Dave J Hogan/Getty

Spanning six decades, Dylan's career continues to thrive throughout the 21st century. In addition to being recognized for his illustrious contributions to the music industry and literary scene through the years, he continues to put out new material.

In March 2020, he released a 17-minute ballad titled "Murder Most Foul" addressing the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and other topics in American history and pop culture. That July, he released his 39th studio album Rough and Rowdy Ways, his first to feature all original material since Tempest in 2012.

In January 2022, Dylan sold his entire catalog of recorded work to Sony Music. Variety reported that the deal was worth between $150 million and $200 million.

Dylan also began his years-spanning Rough and Rowdy Ways World Wide Tour in 2021.

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