Joni Mitchell is one of the most highly regarded and influential songwriters of the 20th century. Her melodious tunes support her poetic and often very personal lyrics to make her one of the most authentic artists of her time. As a performer she is widely hailed for her unique style of playing guitar. Mitchell’s unflinching struggle for her own artistic independence has made her a role model for many other musicians, and somewhat of a bane to music industry executives. She is critical of the industry and of the shallowness that she sees in much of today’s popular music. Mitchell is also a noted painter and has created the beautiful artwork that appears on the packaging of her music albums. Joni Mitchell was born Roberta Joan Anderson in Fort Macleod, Alberta, Canada, to Myrtle Marguerite (McKee), a teacher, and William Andrew Anderson, a RCAF flight lieutenant and grocer. Her father was of Norwegian descent, and her mother had Irish and Scottish ancestry. Mitchell first became famous for penning “Both Sides Now”, a song that helped launch the career of pop/folk singer Judy Collins. When Mitchell began as a songwriter many of her lyrics displayed a wisdom that was precocious for someone who was in her early twenties. Mitchell was first noticed as a performer in New York City’s music scene. Her first album appeared in 1968, which featured her voice and her acoustic guitar with virtually no other accompaniment on most songs. She became romantically involved with David Crosby and later Graham Nash, both of the majorly successful West Coast rock group Crosy, Stills and Nash. Mitchell literally wrote the theme song for the historic mega-concert Woodstock. Arguably her most popular song from this era may be “Big Yellow Taxi” with its well-known lyrics: “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone, they paved paradise and put up a parking lot”. Mitchell’s music was originally considered to be folk, but after her initial success she began to grow in a jazz direction. Her collaboration with saxophonist and band leader Tom Scott produced the album “Court and Spark”, one of the most popular and influential albums of all time. As her music style veered increasingly towards jazz, Mitchell sadly observed that her pop/folk fans did not follow her to the new musical place she was going to. The sales of her later albums declined. Nonetheless her work was still followed by many within the music industry. Mitchell worked closely with jazz great Charles Mingus on his last project. She did several albums with jazz bass player Jaco Pastorius, and several more with her second husband, musician and sound engineer Larry Klein. The most popular songs in her career include Big Yellow Taxi, Both Sides Now, Help Me, River, and A Case of You. Her most popular albums include Court and Spark, Hejira, Turbulent Indigo, and Blue. Joni Mitchell’s influence on other musicians has been so broad that it is difficult to summarize. She has been a notable influence on Prince, Elvis Costello, George Michael, Madonna, Sheryl Crow, Morissey, Marillion, Seal, Beck, Cassandra Wilson, Diana Krall and a great many of other women songwriters that are too numerous to mention. Led Zeppelin’s “Going to California” is an homage to Mitchell. Mitchell’s songs have been covered by the likes of Bob Dylan, Mandy Moore, Minnie Riperton, Frank Sinatra, the Counting Crows, Linda Ronstadt, Neil Diamond, Tori Amos, the Spin Doctors, Nazareth, the Indigo Girls, and many more. Mitchell’s music made an appearance in the movie Love Actually (2003) . In this mostly comedic film, actress Emma Thompson’s character is a fan of Joni Mitchell’s music. At one point in the movie, Thompson’s character discovers that she has been betrayed by her husband for a much younger woman. She puts on a brave face for the kids, but her moment of private, painful revelation is shown on screen accompanied by an audio track that is silent except for an overdub of Joni Mitchell singing “Both Sides Now”, not the original upbeat recording from the 1960s when Mitchell was a 23-year-old ingénue, but rather the recent re-recording, a somber sentimental performance by the now husky-voiced middle-aged Mitchell, backed by a lush orchestra — a performance akin to an older, wiser Frank Sinatra singing the retrospective “It Was A Very Good Year” when he was sixty. This poignant scene is the dramatic pinnacle of the film. Joni Mitchell remains a role model to artists everywhere. Her paintings are being shown in various galleries and on tours, and she is releasing an album of new music in 2007.
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