Welcome to #TBT Mixtape, Billboard‘s series that showcases artists’ very own throwback-themed playlists exclusive to Billboard’s Spotify account. The curated set features the artists’ favorite tracks from their youth and childhood.
This week’s spin comes from Judy Collins. Earlier this month, the folk singer-songwriter, author and activist feted her 80th birthday (May 1) at a surprise soirée that included a who’s who of her industry pals, from Joan Baez and Gloria Steinem to Suzanna Vega and more. Over the past five years, the legendary musician kept herself quite occupied, thanks to a nonstop release schedule that includes yearly tour dates as well as three albums: 2015’s Strangers Again (which featured duets with Jackson Browne, Willie Nelson and Jeff Bridges), 2016’s Silver Skies Blue (a Grammy-nominated duets LP alongside Bronx-based singer-songwriter Ari Hest), and 2017’s Everybody Knows (her first LP alongside longtime friend Stephen Stills).
During her tenure in the biz, Collins has released more than 55 albums (four of which have gone gold and two platinum) and published a novel and two memoirs. Throughout, the Grammy winner has remained steadfast in her activism: She testified at the Chicago Seven trial, marched in Mississippi for civil rights, and her cover of “Amazing Grace” became an anthem for the opposition to the Vietnam War, peaking at No. 15 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1971.
Collins continued her mission with the release of “Dreamers” last year — an a cappella protest song delivered as a response to the Trump administration’s immigration policies. “People are yearning to hear something that gives the reality to a situation that is so frightening,” Collins told Billboard last year about the clip, which features still photographs of immigrant children and their parents. “It puts a face on the story which, because of the headlines and the news cycles, becomes kind of lost in this 24-hour stream that we get all the time. We don’t see the individual people, and I think this does paint a portrait and makes it more accessible.”
Currently in the midst of a sweeping tour, which includes dates at the NYC’s Metropolitan Museum of Art (June 14), legendary folk music haunt Caffé Lena in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. (Aug 17), and more. NYC mainstay Joe’s Pub further toasted Collins as the recipient of its 2019 Vanguard Award & Residency honor, which included a handful of her own shows at the venue, plus several curated showcases for handpicked acts like Thomas Dybdahl, Mx. Justin Vivian Bond and Ari Hest.
To help further ring in her milestone 80th year, Collins crafted this week’s #TBT Mixtape to feature a run through her favorite folk classics from pals like Leonard Cohen and Stills, plus a mix of her picks for today’s fresh talents from Leon Bridges and Lucius to Brandi Carlile, Noora Noor and more.
“This is a mixture of some of my favorite artists. I have been very lucky over the years to have songs and songwriters find me through all different means and windows,” Collins tells Billboard. “The poet Leonard Cohen first came to me through a mutual friend in 1968 with his writing to see if what he was writing could be deemed songs. They were! I recorded ‘Suzanne’ and ‘Famous Blue Rain Coat’ immediately.”
The sonically eclectic playlist stretches across decades and represents the “craftsmanship” of songwriting at its core, as well as the artistry of the performance. “Some of the artists on the list you may not immediately recognize by name,” she adds. “Finding good songs have always been a passion of mine. They stick with you like a love affair.”
Collins cites two the tracks as especially significant to her career: Frank Sinatra’s version of “Send In the Clowns” (which she has made a repeat play at her concerts over the past decades) and Still’s “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” which was written about her. “When I first learned of ‘Send In the Clowns,’ I was told it had been recorded by over 300 other artists. That didn’t phase me as I was completely in love with the song itself,” she adds. “I have also been fortunate to be the subject matter of songs too. Stephen wrote ‘Suite: Judy Blue Eyes’ for me in an attempt to woo me back at the end of our affair.” Despite the attempt, “It didn’t work,” she cracks. However the song endured as a “testament” to their long-lasting “50-year” friendship. “I had the pleasure of touring the world with Stephen over the last two years and it was a surreal honor to sing that very song with him each night.”
Listen to Judy Collins’ #TBT Mixtape below and also check out some retro snaps of the icon throughout her career.