The Port Arthur News
PORT ARTHUR —
The song “Me and Bobby McGee” was originally performed by a Texas country singer, Roger Miller, in the late 1960s.
It wasn’t until three years later when Port Arthur native Janis Joplin posthumously brought the single to No. 1 did most people take notice of the tune.
“Any song that she recorded became her song,” said Sam Monroe, president of Lamar State College- Port Arthur. “She connected with people — the soulful, the emotional, the raw way she sang a song.”
The “Texas Pop Festival Revisited” exhibit will be on display at the Museum of the Gulf Coast, 700 Procter, from Sunday, Jan. 20 until March, 24. The opening reception will be from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and is free to the public. Refreshments will be served.
The event marks the opening of the Museum’s participation in America’s Music, a project celebrating American popular music with performances, films and community discussions.
If the songstress had not died in 1971 of a drug overdose, she would have turned 70-years-old Saturday.
Monroe was in Joplin’s kindergarten class at Terrell Elementary in Port Arthur and he said that they were classmates until high school.
“My father was president of Port Arthur College and her mother was registrar, so our families were friends,” he said.
Monroe said that before she was a national rock star, Joplin was editor of “The Driftwood,” the school newspaper of Woodrow Wilson Jr. High.
“I noticed that she was more non-conformist between Jr. and Sr. high,” Monroe said. “There was a counter culture at the time — we used to call them ‘Beat-Niks’ — it was the coffee house crowd who liked to read poetry, sing folk music and dress in an avant garde way. Janis adopted that lifestyle.”
Joplin’s legacy was apparent to Monroe years after her death when he traveled to cities like New York, Washington and Los Angeles.
“I would get to talking to people and they always ask where you’re from. When I said ‘Port Arthur,’ right away, they would say ‘Janis Joplin,’” he said. “Her name is forever linked in the minds of people with Port Arthur.”
On Sunday, Monroe will host a presentation about Southeast Texas musicians, Janis included, at the opening of the exhibit, “The Texas Pop Festival Revisted,” which is on loan from the Texas Musicians Museum in Richardson.
“It’s a way of introducing people to music of the Gulf Coast,” he said.
Joplin is not the only recognizable name in the exhibit, which is based off a Texas festival that was occurred two weeks after the legendary Woodstock on Labor Day weekend, 1969 at the Dallas International Motor Speedway, said Ami Kamara, museum curator.
“Janis Joplin, Johnny Winter, Larry Graham with Sly and Family Stone and Tony Joe White were the local musicians who played the festival, but bands like Led Zeppelin, Santana and B.B. King,” Kamara said.
A number of out-of-town visitors who come to the museum have made the trip especially to see the Joplin exhibit, she said.
“Earlier this week, we had somebody who came from Baltimore and their entire reason for coming to Port Arthur was to see her exhibit — it’s a definite draw to the city,” Kamara said.
Monroe was instrumental in starting the downtown Port Arthur museum and he said that it was soon apparent to him that Joplin have her own exhibit.
“We get visitors from all over the world — her following was really global,” he said.
Artists who die young and at the peak of their career (i.e. Bob Marley, Kurt Cobain) gain an almost cult-like following, Kamara said.
“They end up becoming revered for doing such a large amount of things in such a short amount of time,” Kamara said. “Janis was one of those people who lived their own life with no apologies even though she grew up in a time when women were told what to do and didn’t have many choices.
“She tested the boundaries of what was acceptable and lived her life completely to the fullest and that’s what I admire about her.”