Raw truth, pointed irony and unsettling beauty are words that describe both the artist and her art. Joni Mitchell – an accomplished singer, painter, poet and photographer — is one of the most prolific, influential female recording artists of the twentieth century. A brilliant surrealist and gifted poet, Mitchell blends musical complexity with intellectually astute lyrics, creating a sound that is quintessentially her own.
Driven by her passionate intensity and unbending free spirit, Joni Mitchell has succeeded in breaking pop boundaries and continually refusing to abide by the rules of the recording industry. From the earliest stages of her versatile career, Mitchell has garnered respect and admiration from both her musical peers and her expansive and expectant fan base.
Throughout her artistic journey, she has seamlessly evolved her raw self-expression through folk music to jazz to rock ‘n roll, world music and avant-garde styles. She accomplished this at a time when other artists dared not step out of the confines of pop music in such a bold fashion. Her deeply personal and colorful lyrics and innovative sounds have touched millions of people for over four decades and the creative legacy she has bestowed through her genius is unsurpassed.
Born Roberta Joan Anderson on November 7, 1943 in Fort MacLeod, Alberta, Mitchell experienced her artistic calling from the age of seven when she convinced her parents to give her piano lessons so she could release the melodies she heard in her head. She also discovered her drawing skills early in life and recalls her first creative outbursts, inspired by events such as watching the movie Bambi, which disturbed her so much that she felt compelled to draw out her emotions.
Like many children of her era, Mitchell contracted Polio at the age of nine, another incident that she tributes as a starting point of her true identity as an artist. As a teenager, Mitchell was a self-taught ukulele player, which she bought to entertain at parties, not being able to afford a guitar.
In 1965, Roberta Joan Anderson enrolled in the Alberta College of Art in Calgary, but soon dismissed her classes as not creative enough for her standards. She sang Judy Collins songs in Calgary pubs and later that same year moved to Toronto with the aspiration of becoming a folk singer.
Struggling to get into the music business and sustaining herself through low-paying department store jobs, Mitchell soon decided to marry Chuck Mitchell, whom she had met in Calgary. The pair moved to Detroit where they both performed as folk singers in various clubs. The marriage and partnership of Joan and Chuck Mitchell dissolved within a year and a half and she then moved to New York City to pursue her dreams of becoming a recording artist.
A relative unknown, Mitchell quickly cultivated a cult following as a live performer and talented songwriter. This distinction was owed in part to the fact that her songs were being performed and recorded by well-established folk and country artists, such as Tom Rush, George Hamilton IV, Canadian born Buffy Sainte-Marie and Judy Collins, whose cover of Both Sides Now in 1968 became Joni’s first hit song.
In 1967, David Crosby stumbled upon a Joni Mitchell performance in Florida, and was so awestruck by what he heard and saw that he became one of the steering wheels of Mitchell’s first recording contract on Reprise Records.
Mitchell was scheduled to perform at Woodstock in 1969 but was advised by her manager not to appear in case the well-publicized traffic jams preventing artists from leaving the concert area would jeopardize her scheduled appearance on the Dick Cavett Show the following Monday. Her frustration and regret at not having been able to participate in this life-changing musical event led her to write the song Woodstock, which ironically went on to become an anthem for her generation. The song was a success for Crosby, Stills & Nash later that year.
Following on the mild success of her album Ladies of the Canyon, Mitchell took a year off from the recording industry to travel and seek creative inspiration. From that period of spiritual introspection in 1971, came Mitchell’s intense and magical album Blue, which became an instant classic and critically acclaimed, firmly establishing Mitchell as one of the most important songwriters of her time.
Since her early folk roots, Mitchell has ventured her talents in jazz music, experimental and synth-pop, working with greats and pioneers of various music genres, such as Charles Mingus, Wayne Shorter, Willie Nelson, Peter Gabriel, Thomas Dolby, Weather Report and Chaka Khan. Her poetry set to music has been performed throughout the world, by diverse artists including Frank Sinatra, Chet Atkins, Glenn Campbell, Neil Diamond, Crosby, Stills & Nash, James Taylor, Bing Crosby, Willie Nelson, The Byrds, and countless others.
Mitchell has been the recipient of many Gold and Platinum albums, two Juno Awards and five Grammy Awards. In 1981, Joni Mitchell was inducted in the Canadian Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, with a personal presentation by ex-Prime Minister Pierre-Elliot Trudeau. In October 1988, she was awarded the “Premio Tenco” during the San Remo Song Festival in Italy, received the Billboard Century Award in 1995, and on May 6, 1996 Joni received the coveted Polar Music Prize from the Royal Swedish Academy of Music. Joni was inducted into both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1997. In 2004, Joni Mitchell was made companion of Order of Canada. Mitchell recently re-released her album Hejira, which is seen by many as one of the moodiest of her albums, in celebration of its 30th anniversary.
A mature artist of great courage and integrity, Joni Mitchell’s compelling art forms have entrenched her within the Canadian and international music scene as a sensitive and vital contributor. She lends a painter’s vision to all of her work and, with a painter’s ability to be self-adjudicating; she refused to work with a producer, allowing her work to develop naturally and in a most original way. Having only recorded two songs in her career in standard tuning, the bulk of her repertoire comes from a palate of nearly sixty original open tunings. This produced some very fresh chordal movements, which are currently being studied in American music schools today. The strength and uncompromising manner she brings to each of her artistic explorations continues to fascinate and amaze both industry members and music fans alike.