Joni Mitchell was born Roberta Joan Anderson in Alberta, Canada on November 7, 1943. Anderson’s interest as a child was outdoor sports, until she was stricken with polio at the age of 8 due to an epidemic that was spreading in the country. After her recovery, Anderson found out that she no longer would be involved in competitive sports like running and swimming, which was bad as she had been really athletic. To compensate for that, Joni displayed interest in the arts. Initially she was drawn to dancing, and then her interests veered toward the arts and poetry.
Growing up, Anderson began to love music, especially rock and roll. After graduating from high school, she began playing for a little cash, but she never thought of seeing it as a career. She attended an art college, but soon dropped out and went to Toronto, Ontario where she met a Cree-Canadian folk singer Buffy Saint-Marie, who had inspired Anderson very much and later covered the latter’s self-written tunes, as Anderson’s skill as a songwriter was beginning to blossom. It was also there that she later married another folk singer Chuck Mitchell in 1965, and began to perform under the name of Joni Mitchell.
Moving to the United States
The Mitchells then moved to the US, eventually settling in Detroit, Michigan where they continued to play at local coffeehouses. There, her talents as a singer and songwriter began to get more and more exposure from the press and the media. She and Chuck Mitchell eventually separated, and soon Joni Mitchell moved to New York to hone her musical craft.
Soon, Mitchell’s original compositions were being covered by other artists, who then turned them into hits. Some of these artists include George Hamilton IV (1967’s “Urge For Going” which hit #7 on the country singles chart) and Judy Collins (who had refused to sing “Urge For Going” but in 1968 sang “Both Sides Now” which went to #8 on the pop chart. She also covered “Chelsea Morning”). Other artists who sang Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” were Harpers Bizarre, The Johnstons and Dion.
Attaining initial fame
In 1968, she encountered David Crosby who was impressed by her talents and later helped her snag a recording deal with Reprise Records. Mitchell’s eponymous debut album, sometimes also known as Song To A Seagull, was released that year. But it was her second album Clouds (1969) that garnered her much acclaim. Cloudsfeatured her original compositions that had been covered by other artists before, such as “Chelsea Morning.” It was a considerable hit on both the Canadian and US album charts. The following year Mitchell was awarded with her first Grammy Award for Best Folk Performance.
Reprise released Ladies Of The Canyon in 1970. It fared even better than its predecessor on the charts (#22 Canada, #31 US). It featured her single “Big Yellow Taxi” which became a minor hit. Her own composition “Woodstock” was covered by Crosby’s own group Crosby, Stills & Nash and just missed the US Top 10. Needless to say, it also became the anthem of the famous music festival.
More successful albums — “Blue,” and “Court and Spark”
In 1971, Mitchell released her fourth LP Blue whose commercial success was largely unexpected. It became her first Top 10 album on the Canadian charts, and landed at #15 on the Billboard 200. Its single “Carey” was also a Hot 100 hit.
Mitchell deviated from Blue‘s purely folk atmosphere with the release of her fifth LPFor The Roses in 1972. It yielded her first Top 40 hit “You Turn Me On, I’m A Radio.” Her critical and commercial success continued with the release of her sixth albumCourt And Spark in 1973. Buoyed by her first Top 10 pop single (and also first #1 easy listening hit), Court And Spark gave Mitchell her first #1 Canadian hit. It also went to #2 on the Billboard 200, her best-performing album so far. The album’s single “Help Me,” peaked at #7 on the Billboard Hoat 100. She set off to tour on the strength of Blue‘s success.
Mitchell’s experimentation, versatility, and impact on the music industry
Mitchell had been employing and injecting other genres in an effort to veer away from the pure folk sound. She threw in jazz, rock, Latin, world music and others (even in an avant-garde style). Her experimentation, especially with jazz music, was evident in her subsequent albums The Hissing Of Summer Lawns (1975), Hejira(1976), Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter (1977) and Mingus (1979, featuring jazz bassist Charles Mingus).
Mitchell continued her experimentation, this time with pop and electronica elements during the early 1980s up to the early 1990s. She dabbled with synths, drum machines and sequencers. The albums released during this period were Wild Things Run Fast (1982), Dog Eat Dog (1985), Chalk Mark In A Rain Storm (1988), and Night Right Home (1991).
She returned to her old folk form with the release of 1994’s Turbulent Indigo, which won her two Grammys for “Best Pop Album” and “Best Album Package.” In 2000 she released her seventeenth album Both Sides Now which again netted Mitchell two Grammy trophies for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance and Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album. All in all, Mitchell has received 15 Grammy nominations and won eight of them.
Joni Mitchell really has an extensive body of work that has influenced so many singers and musicians. She is known for her individual guitar style and her personal, introspective yet expressive lyrics. She was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame in 1997 and Canadian Songwriters Hall Of Fame in 2007, as well as other honors.