Joanne was Gaga's aunt, who was just 19 when she died of lupus in 1974, before the singer was born. She explained to People magazine why she titled her fifth studio album after her father's late sister. "I always wanted to be a good girl," she said. "And Joanne was such a good girl. "But I have such a rebellious spirit, and my father was always very angry. He drank because of his sister's death. I was trying to understand him through making this record, and in that, also trying to understand why I love men that are cowboys."
"I'm figuring out all of those relationships in my life through the music, and going very deeply into it. But in a totally beautiful way," Gaga added. "It's not a sad album. It's an album that is very revealing of me as a woman."
Gaga told The Sunday Times about the background of this acoustic ballad. "My whole life, I never understood why my father was so sad, drank so much or was wild. I thought it was my fault, and it was painful for the family. I'd witness year after year that feeling of loss within my father and grandparents. There's something so powerful and deep to lose a child."
Joanne is Gaga's middle name too, and as she was named after her late aunt, the singer has used her as a muse throughout her career. She explained to the New York Times how the death of her father's sister informed the musical direction of the album.
"This album, it doesn't lean necessarily in a particular direction, which is why the album title is Joanne. This is my middle name. This is the middle and the center of me and Joanne, my father's sister who died when she was 19. That was the year that I decided I really was gonna go for it."
"I used to leave my apartment and I just had my white boots on and my little shorts and a T-shirt and I would just walk down the street on the Lower East Side totally free," Gaga continued. "And I had the whole world - the whole unknown of music - and where it could take me ahead of me. And this song ['Joanne'] in a lot of ways I realized even today is me looking back on Joanne and saying 'Where do you think you're going?' You know, I had no idea where I was going."
This features singer-songwriter Harper Simon (son of Paul Simon) on guitar.
When Gaga performed the song during her show at The Satellite in Los Angeles on October 27, 2016 she told the audience how it has helped her father to finally come to terms with the loss of his sister after all these years.
"When we made this song we just thought it was a beautiful song and an honest song, but after this record came out and everybody heard this music and came to my father's restaurant in New York, Joanne (Trattoria), to celebrate, I saw a look in my dad's eyes that I've never seen in my whole life, because when my dad was really young he lost his sister, Joanne," she explained.
"Sometimes I used to wonder if I ever got to meet my real dad, you know, because sometimes things happen in your life that are so bad that you die, or a part of you dies, and after this record came out, I swear that part of my dad came back to life," Gaga added. "I hope that when you hear it when you're with your families and you think of the loss that you've had or the pending loss... I hope this song can heal you like it healed my family."
Lady Gaga dropped a stripped-back piano version of the tune on January 26, 2018. The singer donated all proceeds from the single release to the Lupus Research Alliance in honor of her late aunt.
Accompanied by Mark Ronson, Gaga performed this in the first segment of the Grammy Awards in 2018, introducing the song with a dedication to Joanne. She went with an angel theme; her grand piano was covered with wings. The following year, the song won a Grammy: Best Pop Solo Performance.