Judy Collins' Life in Photos

Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter Judy Collins' contributions to music have inspired and amplified the voices of many over the course of her six-decade-long career. With several top 10 hits and platinum-certified albums, here's a look back at the music icon's highlights through the years 

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Judy Collins' Early Years

Judy Collins
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Judy Collins was born the eldest of five on May 1, 1939, in Seattle, where she lived for 10 years before moving to Denver with her musically inclined, blind father.

Inheriting her dad's talents, Collins was a piano prodigy. At age 13, she pursued an impressive music career and dazzled audiences performing Mozart's "Concerto for Two Pianos."

But her future as a concert pianist quickly derailed after being introduced to the emotionally truthful lyrics of folk revival music by artists including Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, who inspired her pursuit of finding honesty in songwriting and strengthened her passion for the guitar.

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Judy Collins' Love Life

Judy Collins
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Collins married Peter Taylor in 1958 and had her only child, Clark C. Taylor, with him that same year. After they divorced in 1965, she married designer Louis Nelson in 1996.

After 25 years of marriage, Collins told PEOPLE of Nelson, "He's just an amazing person."

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Judy Collins' Debut Album Release

Judy Collins
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Collins made her masterful debut with A Maid of Constant Sorrow in 1961 at age 22 through Elektra Records. The album consisted of a collection of interpretive works from social poets including Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs, and Tom Paxton.

While A Maid of Constant Sorrow was her first record, it was Wildflowers that gained widely-acclaimed recognition in 1967 — following her 1966 album In My Life, housing her first-charting single "Hard Lovin' Loser."

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Judy Collins' Influence on Folk

Judy Collins, Joni Mitchell
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Collins' trailblazed when she made her way to N.Y.C.'s Greenwich Village and thrived within the folk community throughout the 1960s. She not only put forth her own music, but helped amplify the voices of other musicians — including Joni Mitchell and Randy Newman — to a wider audience before they gained worldwide recognition.

Collins' work mainly consisted of guitar-based folk prior to In My Life — the pivotal album that sourced from artists including The Beatles and added lush orchestration to many of the songs, diversifying her future sound in the projects that followed.

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Judy Collins' Grammy Award Win

Judy Collins
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Having earned a number of accolades, graced the top of the charts and influenced an entire genre of music, Collins has had an undeniably successful musical career. The artist has nabbed six Grammy Award nominations to date and one win in 1969.

She took home the coveted gramophone for "Both Sides, Now" in the best folk recording category.

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Judy Collins' Political Wave

Judy Collins

As Collins further cemented her stardom status, she began to diversify her music — even using it as a political platform for her longtime activism endeavors, particularly with 1976's Bread and Roses.

The album had many political themes, including its title song, originally a 1911 poem by James Oppenheim penned in celebration of the movement for women's rights. Despite the album failing to reach the same commercial success that Judith did, the title track was recognized as the anthem of the women's socialist movement.

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Judy Collins' Oscar Nomination

Judy Collins
Gus Stewart/Redferns

Alongside Jill Godmilow, Collins co-directed Antonia: A Portrait of the Woman in 1974, a documentary that centered on Antonia Brico, the first female conductor to conduct major orchestras in the U.S. and Europe.

The film was critically acclaimed and received an Academy Award nomination for Best Documentary Feature. It was also among the 25 motion pictures to be added to the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress in 2003.

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Judy Collins on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson

Judy Collins
Fred Sabine/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty

Collins left Elektra Records after her 1984 Home Again album's poor sales performance. Despite her departure after 23 years, she signed several record deals and continued to release music throughout the 1980s and 1990s, including Fires of Eden with Columbia Records.

She performed the aforementioned album's title track on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson and The Joan Rivers Show. She filmed a music video for it and Cher even recorded the single for her 1991 album Love Hurts.

Collins was also invited to perform at Bill Clinton's first Presidential Inauguration in 1993, where she performed "Amazing Grace" and "Chelsea Morning," the song that is credited as the Clinton's inspiration behind naming their daughter.

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Judy Collins' Onscreen Successes

Judy Collins
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Collins released Judy Collins Live at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on DVD in 2012. The special, which also aired on CBS, received acclaimed recognition, including a New York Emmy nomination and a Bronze Medal win at the 2013 New York Festival International Television & Film Awards.

Collins later put out another live show recording from her 2014 gig at Dromoland Castle in Ireland, which also won a Bronze Medal at the 2014 New York Festival International Television & Film Awards.

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Judy Collins' Comeback Grammy Nomination

Judy Collins
Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

Collins continued to film and release several of her live performances in the years that followed, dazzling audiences with her voice and music. But in 2017, she grabbed the attention of the Recording Academy with her Silver Skies Blue album released in 2016.

Featuring her writing partner Ari Hest, the collaborative album was nominated for a Grammy Award in 2017 for best folk album, marking the first Grammy nomination for Collins in over 40 years.

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Judy Collins' Social Activism Efforts

Judy Collins
Ray Mickshaw/WireImage

Collins has incorporated her political and social ideologies into her music for decades. She's been a representative of several nonprofit organizations and causes including UNICEF, as well as a longtime advocate for suicide prevention, mental health awareness and stigma reduction.

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Judy Collins' Published Books

Judy Collins

Collins has also written a number of books including Sanity & Grace and her tell-all memoir, Sweet Judy Blue Eyes: My Life in Music. In 2017, she released Cravings, a book that chronicles her past personal struggles with eating disorders and her journey to recovery.

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Judy Collins' Grammy Hall of Fame Induction

Judy Collins
Gai Terrell/Redferns

In 2017, Collins' famed rendition of Joni Mitchell's "Both Sides Now" off her 1967 album Wildflowers was entered into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

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Judy Collins' Legacy Tribute

Judy Collins

In 2008, contemporary and classic artists honored Collins' legacy with a tribute compilation album titled Born to the Breed: A Tribute to Judy Collins. Rufus Wainwright, Shawn Colvin, Dolly Parton, Joan Baez, and Leonard Cohen were all featured on the project, and a portion of the proceeds from album sales went to the Jazz Foundation of America.

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Judy Collins' Most Recent Work

Judy Collins
Per Ole Hagen/Redferns

After a career spanning six decades, Collins is still going strong. In 2019, she released an album titled Winter Stories in collaboration with critically-acclaimed Norwegian folk artist Jonas Fjeld and bluegrass band Chatham Country Line.

In February 2022, she put out her sixth album in six years titled Spellbound — also marking her first record of entirely original songs and her 29th studio album.

"You have to be somehow in a place that you can trust yourself and the rest of the world," she told PEOPLE exclusively. "It takes courage, and I wanted this to be my story."

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