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Judy Collins ( 1939 - )  Category ( Singers ) [suggest a correction]

Judy CollinsA classical piano prodigy in her early teens, Judy Collins eventually got up from her bench and found her voice -- and the world of music has been the richer for it.

It's a voice legendary for its purity. Even now, at the age of 70, Collins is capable of raising goose bumps with her special approach to a song.

"I always do the songs as if I'd never done them before," she said in a recent interview.

Born May 1, 1939 in Seattle, the daughter of a blind disc jockey, Collins was surrounded by music and musicians as a child. First gravitating toward the piano, she then picked up a guitar and plugged herself into the folk music craze that was just beginning to blossom in the late '50s. Married young to a professor named Peter Taylor, she moved across the country to the University of Connecticut and began performing in coffeehouses and bars.

Eventually, she started getting gigs in Greenwich Village -- epicenter of pop music at the time -- and signed a recording contract with Elektra Records at the age of 19.

For babyboomers, Collins is an iconic figure for her personal history as much as her music. She was a staunch anti-war activist who testified in the Chicago 7 trial of Abbie Hoffman and friends in 1969, breaking into "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" at one point during the questioning. She gave sweet voice to most of the heavy protest songs of the age.

Later, while she was romantically involved with Stephen Stills, Collins (and her riveting blue eyes) became the inspiration for the first big hit by Crosby, Stills & Nash: "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes."

During the '60s, '70s and '80s, Collins recorded songs by master songwriters of varying genres, from Leonard Cohen to Steven Sondheim to the Beatles. It was her haunting rendition of Sondheim's "Send in the Clowns," from "A Little Night Music" that is credited with winning it a 1975 Grammy.

Yet she was never a chart topper. Her music was more to be savored on an album, one melodious cut unfolding after asnother. The highest she ever reached on the Billboard charts was "Both Sides Now," which peaked at No. 8. Nevertheless, her songs were remembered long after most of the No. 1s had been forgotten.

"Chelsea Morning," for example, wasn't a hit in the usual sense. But it is the reason Bill and hillary Clinton gave the name Chelsea to their only child, and Collins was invited to play at the first Clinton inauguration in 1992.

In recent years, Collins has used her voice in another way -- as an advocate for suicide prevention. Her only child, Clark, committed suicide at the age of 33. She has also lent her considerable clout to an organization devoted to preventing the use of landmines around the world.

Divorced from her first husband, Collins married fellow activist Louis Nelson in 1996 and now lives with him in New York City.

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