Why Was Janis Joplin Called Pearl?

It is a wonder that someone whose career lasted less than a decade could have such an impact on rock history, but the wonders of Janis Joplin never cease.

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The wailing singer had a short-lived stint in the spotlight prior to her death in 1970. As it turns out, that short stint was enough to cement her in the annals of music history. When you consider her wailing vocals though, it becomes clear why she didn’t need long to make a lasting impact.

She punctuated her career with the release of her final solo studio album, Pearl. The posthumously released record features her name-making rendition of “Me and Bobby McGee,” amongst other stellar offerings.

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It was on that record that Joplin honed her voice. While in Big Brother and the Holding Company, Joplin was a purveyor of psychedelia. However, her solo efforts were geared toward a more soulful sound. Her first solo project, I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again Mama! fell a little flat on the ears of an audience expecting more of the same from Joplin.

“That was a pretty heavy time for me,” she once explained of going solo. “It was really important, you know, whether people were going to accept me or not.”

To shield herself from those outside expectations, Joplin started urging others to call her Pearl. “I’m tired of being Janis, call me Pearl,” she once explained. The nickname became a coping mechanism for the struggling rock star.

Though she is now thought of as a trailblazer in the genre, forging her own path as a bandleader put a significant amount of pressure on Joplin. That pressure started to get to her. While she leaned on crutches of the illicit substance persuasion, she continued to introduce herself by the nickname—though many of her friends stuck to calling her Janis. Pearl was an escape from the trials of being Janis Joplin.

After her death, the collection of material that would eventually become her final album was dubbed Pearl because of the nickname she was so fond of in life.

(Photo by John Byrne Cooke Estate/Getty Images)

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