Having grown up listening to blues musicians such as Bessie Smith and Big Mama Thornton and singing in the local choir, Joplin began singing blues and folk music with friends at college in Austin. Cultivating a rebellious manner that might be viewed as liberated, Joplin styled herself after the beat poets, left Texas for San Francisco in 1963, lived in North Beach, and worked occasionally as a folk singer. Around this time her drug use began to increase, acquiring a reputation as a "speed freak" and occasional heroin user, however, more so than other intoxicants, she was a heavy drinker throughout her career and fancied Southern Comfort.
After a brief return to Port Arthur and a failed engagement she again moved to San Francisco in 1966, where her bluesier vocal style saw her join Big Brother and The Holding Company, who were gaining some renown amongst the nascent hippie community in Haight-Ashbury. The band signed a deal with independent Mainstream Records and recorded an eponymously titled album in 1967. However, the lack of success of their early singles led to the album being withheld, until after their subsequent success.
The band's big break came at the Monterey Pop Festival, which included a version of Thornton's Ball and Chain featuring a barnstorming vocal by Joplin. Their 1968 album Cheap Thrills featured more raw emotional performances and made Joplin's name.
Splitting from Big Brother she formed a sequence of bands, including Full Tilt Boogie who backed her on 1969's I Got Dem Old Kozmic Blues Again Mama and the posthumously released Pearl (1971), which featured a hit single in the form of Kris Kristofferson's Me and Bobby McGee and the wry social commentary of Mercedes-Benz, written by beat poet Michael McClure.
Janis Joplin died of a heroin overdose on October 4, 1970 in Los Angeles California at the age of 27. She was interred in the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Westwood, California.
She is now remembered best for her powerful, distinctive voice, significantly divergent from the soft folk-influenced styles most common at the time, as well as her lyrical themes of pain and loss.