Joni Mitchell, born Roberta Joan Anderson on November 7, 1943, is a Canadian musician, songwriter, and painter.
Joni began singing in small nightclubs in her native Western Canada and then playing for tips on the streets of Toronto. In the mid-1960s she left for New York City and its rich folk music scene, achieving fame first as a songwriter (“Urge for Going,” “Chelsea Morning,” “Both Sides Now”, “Woodstock”) and then as a singer in her own right, recording her debut album in 1968.
Finally settling in Southern California’s Laurel Canyon, Joni played a key part in the folk rock movement then sweeping the musical landscape. “Blue”, her starkly personal 1971 album, is regarded as one of the strongest and most influential records of the time.
She also had pop hits such as “Big Yellow Taxi,” “Free Man in Paris,” and “Help Me,” the latter two off 1974’s “Court and Spark”, her best-selling effort.
Joni’s soprano vocals, distinctive harmonic guitar style, and piano arrangements all grew more complex through the 1970s as she was deeply influenced by jazz, melding it with pop, folk and rock on experimental albums like 1976’s “Hejira”.
She worked closely with jazz greats including Wayne Shorter, Jaco Pastorius, Herbie Hancock, and on a 1979 record released after his death, Charles Mingus. Joni’s jazz years were 1976-1980, recording “Hejira”, “Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter”, and “Mingus” in that order. “Mingus” has the deepest jazz roots, and is for this writer, one of Joni’s top three best works.
From the 1980s on, Joni reduced her recording and touring schedule but turned again toward pop, making greater use of synthesizers and direct political protest in her lyrics, which often tackled social and environmental themes alongside romantic and emotional ones.
Joni’s work is highly respected both by critics and fellow musicians. Rolling Stone magazine called her “one of the greatest songwriters ever,” while All Music Guide said, “When the dust settles, Joni Mitchell may stand as the most important and influential female recording artist of the late 20th century.”
By the end of the century, she’d had a profound influence on artists in genres ranging from R&B to alternative rock to jazz. Joni is also a visual artist. She made the artwork for each of her albums, and in 2000 described herself as a “painter derailed by circumstance.”
Mingus Mexico painted by Joni
“I’m really a painter at heart and I can say this now… Music was a hobby for me at art school, and art was serious. Art was always what I was going to do. I was going to be an artist.” – August 1998
A blunt critic of the music industry, Joni had stopped recording over the last several years, focusing more attention on painting — but in 2007 she released “Shine”, her first album of new songs in nine years.
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If you want to grasp and understand who Joni is, or if you’re already a fan — I highly recommend you rent or buy Joni’s DVD entitled: “Painting With Words and Music”. Superb performance — warm, intimate, revealing… and her artwork is ever present.