American pianist Joanne Polk has been noted for her performances and recordings of music by female composers. Polk began playing the piano at age four and, as a girl, had no particular desire to pursue this specialty. Polk studied at the Juilliard School in New York, receiving Bachelor of Music and Master of Music degrees there, and she went on for a Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the Manhattan School of Music. Her turn toward music by women came after she heard a performance of a work, Parable, by composer Judith Lang Zaimont, and sought out the composer. Zaimont inspired Polk to do research on the subject, and to identify a large literature of neglected music.
Polk's debut recording came as accompanist to soprano Korliss Uecker on the 1992 album Completely Clara, devoted to music by Clara Schumann. In the '90s and 2000s, she devoted several recordings to American composer Amy Beach; one of those, Songs of Amy Beach, recorded with baritone Patrick Mason, was nominated for a Grammy award. Polk has issued two albums of Zaimont's music, Zones (1997) and Callisto (2003), as well as two devoted to works by Fanny Mendelssohn. Her 2014 release The Flatterer, featuring music by French composer Cécile Chaminade, reached the number one position on the Billboard classical sales chart. In 2017, Polk released Gershwin & Wild, an album of music by Earl Wild that represented her first album of music exclusively by a male composer.
Polk joined the faculty at the Manhattan School of Music and has taught master classes at the Summit Music Festival, the New York Summer Music Festival, Montclair State University, Kutztown University, and the University of Minnesota. She co-founded Manhattan in the Mountains, a three-week summer music festival in the Catskill Mountains, devoted to chamber music, solo performing, and community engagement, in 2012. Musical America magazine has included Polk in a listing of 30 Profiles in Courage in the musical world.