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Mitchell, Joni (7th November 1943-Present)

She is a singer-songwriter, musician, producer and artist born Roberta Joan Anderson in Fort Macleod, Alberta, Canada.  Her father was with the Royal Canadian Air Force and so she spent much of her time as a young child during WWII moving around various Canadian bases.

She began piano lessons when she was seven and when she was 9 years old she began smoking and she was also struck down by polio.  During her stay in hospital, where she was told she might not walk again, she began her interest in music and started to sing.  She recovered well and once her father had returned to civilian life he became a grocer in Saskatchewan and from the time Joni was eleven they were resident in the city of Saskatoon.

Not content with just singing she became self-taught on the ukulele when she was a teenager and followed that up by teaching herself guitar.  She performed gigs at parties and various other local venues and also busked in Saskatoon.  When she graduated from high school she went to Calgary and became a student at the Alberta College of Art and Design but this lasted a year before she announced she was going to become a folksinger and moved to Toronto in 1964.

After discovering she was expecting a baby that same time she married the singer Chuck Mitchell after having given birth to a baby girl, Kelly Anne Anderson in February 1965.  Things somehow went wrong and just a few weeks after she was born, Kelly was given up for adoption.  This remained an extremely private part of Joni’s life aside from references appearing in certain songs, but in 1997 they were re-united after her daughter had gone in search of her natural mother.

She appeared on the CBC show Let’s Sing Out a few times and in 1965 she and her husband relocated to the United States, separating  in 1967, which is when she moved to New York City to concentrate on her solo career.  She played gigs at many venues all over the East Coast, with her name becoming recognised for her individual guitar style and songwriting, and at the same time she spent a while studying at West Virginia University prompting her to write the song “Morning Morgantown”.

She met up with Tom Rush, who she had originally become acquainted with while she was still in Canada and after Judy Collins had refused Joni’s “Urge for Going” that was offered by him, he recorded it himself.  George Hamilton IV heard Tom Rush’s recording and promptly sang his own version and turned it in a country hit.

She had her own commercial successes and in 1968 she met up with David Crosby in Florida who whisked her off to Los Angeles to get her known there.  Reprise Records took her on to record a solo acoustic album and the result was Joni Mitchell aka Song to a Seagull with David Crosby credited as producer. The subsequent promotional tour helped pave the way for her next album, Clouds, which she also did all the artwork for on the cover, and gained her the first Grammy Award in 1970.

It wasn’t long before her next release Ladies of the Canyon was on the shelves, but this time there was a move from just acoustic folk to a more pop/rock style with David Crosby still in the producer’s seat.   This became a major success, giving her the first gold album of many, and the UK magazine Melody Maker named her the 1970 Top Female Performer.

She took a year out to write and paint and in 1971 came back with her instantly successful Blue which prompted her to go back on the road before releasing yet another acclaimed album, For the Roses, in 1972.  This time she had what is regarded as her “first bona-fide hit single”, “You Turn Me On, I’m a Radio”.  Yet another album appeared in 1974, Court and Spark, which was produced by herself and this time had a touch of jazz influence on it. After reaching No. 2 in the Billboard album chart, producing the No. 7 single “Help Me” (which was her only Top 10 hit),  and gaining her 4 Grammy Award nominations, it became her most successful on a commercial basis.

In 1974 she toured with L.A. Express, the band she used for Court and Spark, to rave reviews which resulted in yet another album, Miles of Aisles, which this time was a double “live” release and saw her reaching the singles charts with that version of “Big Yellow Taxi”.   From around 1975 she concentrated more on a jazz style and even sampled the work of musicians from Africa.  This resulted in another Grammy Award nomination, The Hissing of Summer Lawns, which Rolling Stone dubbed as “the year’s worst album title”.

Her 1976 Hejira was mainly written while driving from Maine to California and once again she saw chart success when it hit No. 13 on the Billboard album charts.  The following year in 1977 the double Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter came out and even though it saw No. 25 on the charts it raised people’s eyebrows with the photographic images it had on the cover.

She went into collaboration with Charles Mingus, who sadly died before completion, but the album Mingus was released in 1979.  She embarked on another tour and released the second live album Shadows and Light, which was also the title of the accompanying film of the concert.  She was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1981, later receiving a star on the Canadian Walk of Fame in 2000.

The early ‘80s saw her signing up with Geffen Recordings in and in 1982 she married the bassist Larry Klein, who she would later part with in 1994. She released Wild Things Run Fast, which gave her the chart single “(You’re So Square) Baby I Don’t Care” which was a remake of a previous Elvis Presley song. She toured the world from 1983 and in 1984 she teamed up with the producer and singer Thomas Dolby and in 1985 released the album Dog Eat Dog.  1988 saw Chalk Mark in a Rain Storm, which was collaboration with many otheracclaimed artists and it resulted in the single release of the duet with Peter Gabrial, “My Secret Place”.

Three years later she put out Night Ride Home but her success during the ‘90s would really begin when her Turbulent Indigo won her two Grammy Awards.  After 30 years in the business she finally released her Hits in 1996 with the follow up Misses.  In 1997 she was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, although didn’t attend, and the following year Taming the Tiger came out, as did a resultant tour where she shared top billing with Van Morrison and Bob Dylan.

In came the 2000s with the album Both Sides Now and then the 2002 Travelogue, which she said would be her final album.  That same year she received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and was made a Companion if the Order of Canada.   Later albums were put together as compilations of previous work.  There is a long history of other artists singing her songs such as the successful “Woodstock”, “Chelsea Morning”, “The Circle Game”, “Big Yellow Taxi” with 223 covers and “Both Sides Now”, which has 587 covers, but at the same time she retained her own chart presence too.

These artists who have recorded versions of her work, plus the countless others that she has worked with during her career, include Tori Amos, Joan Baez, The Band, Bjork, Jackson Browne, Eva Cassidy, Judy Collins, Counting Crows, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, The Chieftains, Sheryl Crow, Dan Fogelberg, Amy Grant, Daryl Hall, Herbie Hancock, Emmylou Harris, Don Henley, Billy Idol, Janet Jackson, Chaka Khan, Carole King, Diana Krall, Annie Lennox, Matthew’s Southern Comfort, Sarah McLachlan, George Michael, Graham Nash, Nazareth, Willie Nelson, The Persuasions, Tom Petty, Pink Floyd, Prince, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Tom Scott, Seal, James Taylor and Roger Waters.

In 2006 it was revealed she was working on a new song collection for her album Shine, which was released in 2007 and won her another Grammy Award.  Also in 2007 she was inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame, was featured on a Canadian postage stamp and served in an advisory capacity for the Alberta Ballet Company’s production of The Fiddle and the Drum.  Today she will make the occasional concert appearance, but she now spends much of her time concentrating on her painting at her homes in Los Angeles and Sechelt, British Columbia.

Matthew’s Southern Comfort recordings
Woodstock (Joni Mitchell)
Old Gold OG 9795-A (UK 7”)