Bob Dylan (born Robert Allen Zimmerman; May 24, 1941) is an American singer-songwriter, author, and visual artist who has been a major figure in popular culture for more than fifty years. Much of his most celebrated work dates from the 1960s, when songs such as “Blowin’ in the Wind” (1963) and “The Times They Are a-Changin’” (1964) became anthems for the civil rights movement and anti-war movement. His lyrics during this period incorporated a wide range of political, social, philosophical, and literary influences, defied pop-music conventions and appealed to the burgeoning counterculture.
Following his self-titled debut album in 1962, which mainly comprised traditional folk songs, Dylan made his breakthrough as a songwriter with the release of The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan the following year. The album featured “Blowin’ in the Wind” and the thematically complex “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall.” For many of these songs, he adapted the tunes and phraseology of older folk songs. He went on to release the politically charged The Times They Are a-Changin’ and the more lyrically abstract and introspective Another Side of Bob Dylan in 1964. In 1965 and 1966, Dylan encountered controversy when he adopted electrically amplified rock instrumentation, and in the space of 15 months recorded three of the most important and influential rock albums of the 1960s: Bringing It All Back Home (1965), Highway 61 Revisited (1965) and Blonde on Blonde (1966). The six-minute single “Like a Rolling Stone” (1965) has been described as challenging and transforming the “artistic conventions of its time, for all time.” Commenting on both the length of the song and its unconventional theme, Rolling Stone wrote: “No other pop song has so thoroughly challenged and transformed the commercial laws and artistic conventions of its time, for all time.”
In July 1966, Dylan withdrew from touring after being injured in a motorcycle accident. During this period, he recorded a large body of songs with members of the Band, who had previously backed him on tour. These recordings were released as the collaborative album The Basement Tapes in 1975. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Dylan explored country music and rural themes in John Wesley Harding (1967), Nashville Skyline (1969), and New Morning (1970). In 1975, he released Blood on the Tracks, which many saw as a return to form. In the late 1970s, he became a born-again Christian and released a series of albums of contemporary gospel music before returning to his more familiar rock-based idiom in the early 1980s. The major works of his later career include Time Out of Mind (1997), Love and Theft (2001), Modern Times (2006) and Tempest (2012). His most recent recordings have comprised versions of traditional American standards, especially songs recorded by Frank Sinatra. Backed by a changing lineup of musicians, he has toured steadily since the late 1980s on what has been dubbed the Never Ending Tour.
Since 1994, Dylan has published eight books of drawings and paintings, and his work has been exhibited in major art galleries. He has sold more than 100 million records, making him one of the best-selling music artists of all time. He has also received numerous awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, ten Grammy Awards, a Golden Globe Award, and an Academy Award. Dylan has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Minnesota Music Hall of Fame, Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, and the Songwriters Hall of Fame. The Pulitzer Prize Board in 2008 awarded him a special citation for “his profound impact on popular music and American culture, marked by lyrical compositions of extraordinary poetic power.” In 2016, Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.”