Vikings Gone Platinum

Paly’s most iconic musical alumni




     Joan Baez is an immensely influential folk singer from the 1960s. Her politically charged lyrics and use of protest through music has allowed her to be considered one of the pioneers of early protest music. Baez has worked with the likes of Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, Paul Simon and countless other titans of anti-establishment music. She is well known for her hit song “Diamonds and Rust” as well as numerous other protest-folk songs. Baez’s family moved many times during her childhood, causing Baez to be transferred from school to school throughout her youth. One of these schools was Palo Alto High School (Paly).

     While at Paly, Baez created a reputation for herself as a politically conscious and outspoken member of the community. One of her peers recalled a time when Baez led a protest down University Avenue in response to the Vietnam War.

     The most notorious story of Joan Baez at Paly comes from her objection to the Civil Defense and Awareness of Disaster Drill in 1959, which called for all students to leave school early in the case of an air-raid deployed by the Soviets. After discovering that none of the students would survive in the event of an actual air raid, Baez refused to leave her French class when the sirens sounded. After a confrontation with her teacher, she was escorted to the tower building to remain for the rest of the day. She was then charged with civil disobedience for her defiance. This infamous protest, which took place at Paly, is noted as her first-ever real protest.


(1959-1963), (1958-1961)

     Bill Kreutzmann is the percussionist and drummer for the world-renowned rock band The Grateful Dead.  Kreutzmann began playing the drums when he was 13 years old and spent countless hours practicing at Paly. One day, Aldous Huxley, author of “Brave New World” discovered Kreutzmann practicing the drums at school alone and complimented Kreutzmann’s unique style of drumming, despite the fact that Kreutzmann’s sixth grade band teacher declared he was incapable of maintaining a beat.

     Kreutzmann stuck with drumming and co-founded a band called The Warlocks in 1964 with Phil Lesh, Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir and Ron McKernan. The Warlocks played their first official gig just two days before Kreutzmann’s 19th birthday on May 5, 1965. Six months later, The Warlocks became the Grateful Dead, and for the next 30 years, Kreutzmann played over 2,300 shows with the Grateful Dead, selling more than 35 million albums across the globe.

     Ronald “Pigpen” McKernan, the band’s other Paly alumnus, was born in San Bruno. As a child, he learned to play piano, guitar and harmonica, as well as being an excellent singer. McKernan moved to Palo Alto when he was 14-years-old, and soon became friends with Jerry Garcia. McKernan and Garcia eventually formed a number of small groups preceding the Grateful Dead. McKernan was credited as the original founder and frontman of the Grateful Dead.



     The Donnas are an all-female pop punk band formed in Palo Alto. The original members of the band were Brett Anderson (lead vocals), Maya Ford (bass and backing vocals), Allison Robertson (lead guitar and backing vocals) and Torry Castellano (drums/percussion and backing vocals), who was replaced by Amy Cesari in 2009 due to tendonitis. The girls were all friends in eigth grade when they formed their first band, The Electrocutes, in May of 1993. The Electrocutes were not well received during their performing days in high school, generating poor support from classmates, and near the end of their senior year of high school, they founded an alter ego band, The Donnas, in which they played softer music. They recorded their first album titled “The Donnas,” and toured Japan before the end of the school year. The Donnas continued to tour after they graduated high school, releasing an additional album. Their popularity continued to climb after the release of their debut albums, and in 2001 they signed with Atlantic Records.



     Grace Slick is a progressive rock singer and songwriter, known for singing lead vocals in the band Jefferson Airplane in the late 60s and early 70s.

     Their 1967 psych-classic “White Rabbit” is considered as an essential song from the summer of love in San Francisco. Slick went on to sing with Jefferson Starship and became the oldest female vocalist to have a number one track on the Billboard Hot 100 with “We Built This City” at number 47. Known for her rebellious attitude and controversial stage antics, Slick is considered one of the most rebellious frontwomen of all time.

     Slick was born in Illinois in 1939 and eventually moved to Palo Alto in the early 50s. She attended Paly for 2 years before transferring to Castilleja High School, where she graduated. Slick recalled her time in Palo Alto as “right in the middle of WASP caricature family life.” Despite Slick’s negative characterization of the town, one cannot deny that Palo Alto has spawned a slew of musical icons.