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On Thursday in Berlin, Joan Baez, 74, will receive the 2015 Amnesty International Ambassador of Conscience Award, along with the artist Ai Weiwei. Though many know her first for her gently trilling soprano voice, activism is as much a part of Baez’s identity as the sound that led LIFE to declare her, in 1962, “the best folk singer of them all.”
From her performance at the landmark civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965 to her advocacy for migrant farm workers and gay rights to her denunciation of torture and the death penalty, Baez has championed human rights both on- and offstage. Like two of her major influences, Pete Seeger and Marian Anderson, Baez demonstrated how fame can be used as a platform for activism.
Now, in honor of her award, LIFE revisits photographer Ralph Crane’s early-1960s portraits of Baez near her home in Carmel, Calif. “Standing on the shore,” the caption read, “she evokes the same wistful intensity that goes into her rare but luminous recordings of sweet laments.” Some of them were sweet laments, to be sure, but half a century later it’s clear that her music has been so much more.
Liz Ronk, who edited this gallery, is the Photo Editor for LIFE.com. Follow her on Twitter at @LizabethRonk.