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Joni Mitchell Today: Folk Singer Performs at the 2024 Grammy Awards at Age 80
Prior to the 2024 Grammys, singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell was already a nine-time trophy winner. On February 4, the 80-year-old graced the Grammy stage to collect the award for Best Folk Album, then again in a career first: as a performer during the ceremony. Alongside musician Brandi Carlile, Mitchell sang her hit song “Both Sides, Now.”
Mitchell has rarely performed in recent years. A 2015 brain aneurysm left her hospitalized for weeks, and she’s had to relearn to play guitar in addition to other basic motor functions, like walking. In a major feat along her recovery journey, Mitchell performed her first full-length concert in more than 20 years at the 2022 Newport Folk Festival. Her surprise set resulted in the live album At Newport, which won this year’s folk album category.
Who Is Joni Mitchell?
Grammy-winning folk singer Joni Mitchell is best known for the songs “Both Sides, Now” and “Big Yellow Taxi.” She recorded her first album in 1968 before finding commercial and critical success with Ladies of the Canyon, Blue, and Court and Spark, three albums from the early 1970s. Mitchell’s songs have been covered by the likes of Judy Collins and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, with her emotionally vulnerable lyrics influencing scores of musicians. Her impact on music has earned her induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Songwriters Hall of Fame, and the Gershwin Prize.
FULL NAME: Roberta Joan Mitchell
BORN: November 7, 1943
BIRTHPLACE: For Macleod, Canada
SPOUSES: Chuck Mitchell (1965-1967) and Larry Klein (1982-1994)
ASTROLOGICAL SIGN: Scorpio
Singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell was born Roberta Joan Anderson on November 7, 1943, in Fort Macleod, Canada. Her famous last name mirrors that of her first husband, Chuck Mitchell.
At age 9, Joni contracted polio, and it was during her recovery in the hospital that she began performing and singing to patients. After teaching herself how to play the guitar, she went off to art college and quickly emerged as one of the leading folk performers of the late 1960s and ’70s.
Songs and Albums: “Both Sides, Now,” Blue, and More
At the beginning of her career, Mitchell’s compositions were highly original and personal in their lyrical imagery. It was this style that first attracted attention among folk-music audiences in Toronto while she was still in her teens. She moved to the United States in the mid-1960s, and in 1968, she recorded her first album, Song To A Seagull, produced by David Crosby of the Byrds and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Other highly successful albums followed.
Mitchell won her first Grammy Award in 1969; her sophomore album, Clouds, won Best Folk Performance. The recording included “Both Sides, Now,” which remains one of her best known songs. Her third album, Ladies of the Canyon (1970), was a mainstream success for the folk singer, becoming her first gold album, which included the hits “The Circle Game” and “Big Yellow Taxi.”
Next came an even more successful recording, Blue, in June 1971. A gold-certified album after less than five months, it’s been lauded for Mitchell’s introspective and emotionally raw lyrics. Blue eventually sold more than one million copies, becoming a platinum record, and was her first of three albums enshrined in the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999.
During the early ’70s, Mitchell was already starting to experiment with pop, rock, and other genres. Her album Court and Spark (1974) signaled her foray into jazz and jazz fusion and was praised by critics. It ended up becoming her most commercially successful project to date and was nominated for four Grammy Awards, of which Mitchell won Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocalists for “Down to You.” Another popular track was “Help Me.”
Subsequent major albums included The Hissing of Summer Lawns (1975), the highly experimental Hejira (1976), and the two-time Grammy-winner Turbulent Indigo (1994). Her 1977 album Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter eventually made headlines for a different reason. The singer posed as a Black man on the cover in a character she called Art Nouveau, who she also embodied at a Halloween party prior to the album release. Mitchell’s instances of blackface have been discussed to various extents in articles since around 2015, as well as in the 2017 biography Reckless Daughter: A Portrait of Joni Mitchell.
Mitchell wasn’t the only one making hits with the songs she wrote. Other musicians have recorded successful covers of her songs, including Judy Collins; the Counting Crows; and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. In addition to her own extensive body of work, she has been an enormous influence on many artists with her unique guitar styling and expressive lyrics. In recognition of her impact, Mitchell was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame, both in 1997.
Despite other releases like the Grammy-winning Both Sides Now (2000), Mitchell’s 1998 recording, Taming the Tiger, stood as her newest collection of original music for many years. In an interview with Rolling Stone in 2002, Mitchell announced she was retiring due to her frustration with the music industry, referring to it as a “cesspool.” However, she didn’t adhere to her statement, as she became busier than ever with the release of various compilations consisting of her earlier works.
In 2007, she released Shine, her first album of new songs in almost a decade. While recording the album, Mitchell told a Canadian newspaper, “When the world becomes a massive mess with nobody at the helm, it’s time for artists to make their mark.” Politically charged and environmentally conscious, her nineteenth studio album was a Billboard success. It remains her most recent collection of all original music.
Mitchell has continued releasing compilations and live albums, among them the 2014 box set Love Has Many Faces and Blue at 50: Demos and Outtakes (2021). In July 2022, the singer performed at the Newport Folk Festival in her first full-length concert since 2000. The surprise appearance, dubbed the “Joni Jam,” followed a major health scare in 2015. One year later, Mitchell released a live album from the show titled At Newport. Also in 2023, the singer received the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song, a honor that’s been given to Paul Simon, Carole King, Stevie Wonder, Paul McCartney, and Gloria Estefan.
In February 2024, she made a splash again at the Grammy Awards. Not only did At Newport earn Mitchell her 10th Grammy trophy, for Best Folk Album, but the famed singer-songwriter also sang “Both Sides, Now” in her first Grammy ceremony performance. During her acceptance speech, Mitchell said, “We had so much fun at that concert, and I think you can feel it on the record.”
Besides claiming her voice has faltered from complications due to polio and a compressed larynx, Mitchell has dealt with other health issues. She sought treatment for Morgellons disease, which is described as “an uncommon, unexplained skin disorder characterized by sores, crawling sensations on and under the skin, and fiber-like filaments emerging from the sores,” according to the Mayo Clinic. One of the first times she shared her experience with the mysterious illness was in a 2010 Los Angeles Times interview.
In 2015, Mitchell experienced another health crisis. News broke in late March that the then-71-year-old singer had been hospitalized in Los Angeles after being found unconscious at her home. As her hospital stay continued, Mitchell’s friend Leslie Morris was appointed her conservator by a California judge in May.
That June, singer David Crosby said Mitchell had an aneurysm and claimed she was unable to talk in an interview with the Huffington Post. Morris, through Mitchell’s website, released a statement to clarify Mitchell’s condition. She confirmed the brain aneurysm and said the singer was expected to make a “full recovery.” Morris also addressed Crosby’s comment, saying: “Joni is speaking, and she’s speaking well. She is not walking yet, but she will be in the near future as she is undergoing daily therapies. She is resting comfortably in her own home and she’s getting better each day.”
The life-threatening crisis forced Mitchell to relearn to walk and to play guitar. “I’m looking at videos that are on the net to see where I put my fingers,” Mitchell said of her recovery in July 2022. “It’s amazing what an aneurysm knocks out: how to get out of a chair, you don’t know how to get out of bed.”
Daughter and Ex-Husbands
While an art student in college, Mitchell got pregnant and gave birth to a baby girl she named Kelly Dale Anderson in 1965. The birth father refused to marry Mitchell, and she felt she had no choice but to give her daughter up for adoption. The adoptive parents renamed the infant Kilaruen Gibb. After keeping her daughter a secret and being separated from her for over 30 years, Mitchell reunited with her in 1997.
A few weeks after giving birth to Kilaruen, Mitchell met American folk singer Chuck Mitchell and married him 36 hours after meeting him. The couple left for Michigan where they had an official ceremony in June 1965, and she took his last name. They divorced two years later.
In 1982, Mitchell married bassist Larry Klein, who worked on her album Wild Things Run Fast. Klein soon became an established music producer and worked on a number of Mitchell’s albums throughout the late ’80s and early ’90s. While the couple worked on Turbulent Indigo, they eventually divorced in 1994.
I’m a very analytical person, a somewhat introspective person; that’s the nature of the work I do.
America is in a runaway-train position and dragging all the world with it. It’s grotesquely mentally ill.
I come from pioneer stock, developers of the West, people who went out into the wilderness and set up home with nothing but a pair of oxen.
The thing that gave me the most pain in life, psychologically, and it gave me tremendous pain psychologically, is man’s disrespect for nature.
When the world becomes a massive mess with nobody at the helm, it’s time for artists to make their mark.
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