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  • Joni Mitchell, CC, is a Canadian musician, singer songwriter, and painter. Mitchell began

  • singing in small nightclubs in Saskatchewan and Western Canada and then busking in the

  • streets and dives of Toronto. In 1965, she moved to the United States and began touring.

  • Some of her original songs were covered by notable folk singers, allowing her to sign

  • with Reprise Records and record her own debut album in 1968.

  • Settling in Southern California, Mitchell, with popular songs like "Big Yellow Taxi"

  • and "Woodstock", helped define an era and a generation. Her 1971 recording Blue was

  • rated the 30th best album ever made in Rolling Stone's list of the "500 Greatest Albums of

  • All Time". Mitchell switched labels and began moving toward jazz rhythms by way of lush

  • pop textures on 1974's Court and Spark, her best-selling LP, featuring the radio hits

  • "Help Me" and "Free Man in Paris". Her wide-ranging vocals and distinctive open-tuned

  • guitar and piano compositions grew more harmonically and rhythmically complex as she explored jazz,

  • melding it with influences of rock and roll, R&B, classical music, and non-western beats.

  • In the late 1970s, she began working closely with noted jazz musicians, among them Jaco

  • Pastorius, Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Pat Metheny, and Charles Mingus; the latter

  • asked her to collaborate on his final recordings. She turned again toward pop, embraced electronic

  • music, and engaged in political protest. She is the sole record producer credited on

  • most of her albums, including all her work in the 1970s. With roots in visual art, she

  • has designed her own album artwork throughout her career. A blunt critic of the music industry,

  • she quit touring and released her 17th, and reportedly last, album of original songs in

  • 2007. She describes herself as a "painter derailed by circumstance".

  • Mitchell has deeply influenced fellow musicians in a diverse range of genres, and her work

  • is highly respected by critics. AllMusic said, "When the dust settles, Joni Mitchell may

  • stand as the most important and influential female recording artist of the late 20th century",

  • and Rolling Stone called her "one of the greatest songwriters ever". Her lyrics are noted for

  • their developed poetics, addressing social and environmental ideals alongside personal

  • feelings of romantic longing, confusion, disillusion, and joy.

  • Early life Joni Mitchell was born Roberta Joan Anderson

  • on November 7, 1943, in Fort Macleod, Alberta, Canada, to Bill and Myrtle Anderson. Her mother's

  • ancestors were Scottish and Irish; her father's were Norwegian and Sami. Her mother was a

  • teacher. Her father was a Royal Canadian Air Force flight lieutenant who instructed new

  • pilots at Fort Macleod, where the Allied forces were gathering to learn to fly. During the

  • war years, she moved with her parents to a number of bases in Western Canada. After the

  • war, her father began working as a grocer, and his work took the family to Saskatchewan,

  • to the towns of Maidstone and North Battleford. She later sang about her small town upbringing

  • in "Song for Sharon". In Maidstone, a "two-block, one church, one

  • hotel town", Joni's family lived without indoor plumbing and running water. Many of the other

  • residents were First Nations people. Canadians of European origin such as Joni's grandfather

  • had only begun to settle there in recent decades. The town was along the old railway, and the

  • line ran right behind her bedroom. She used to "sit up in bed each morning to watch the

  • one train that always passed daily". Joni said, "The weird thing is that years later

  • my parents met the conductor of that train at a party. He said: 'All I remember of your

  • town is a house with Christmas decorations and a kid that used to wave at me.'" Joni

  • loved spending time outdoors. She also said, "My mother raised me on words... Where other

  • parents would quote from the Bible, she would quote from Shakespeare. She was a romantic

  • woman. She encouraged me in all those old-fashioned things. I kept pressed-flower scrap books."

  • Joni's father was an amateur musician who loved swing records and played trumpet in

  • marching bands, and Joni would join in town parades with her father's band and other children.

  • Many of her childhood friends were taking music lessons, and she would tag along to

  • their performances, where she developed her first musical obsessions: Debussy, Ravel,

  • Stravinsky, Chopin and Beethoven. Much later, the first LP she saved up to buy was Rachmaninov's

  • Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. Mitchell briefly studied classical piano between the

  • ages of 6 and 7. She said, "I wanted to play... I wanted to do what I do now, which is to

  • lay my hand on it and to memorize what comes off of it and to create with it. But my music

  • teacher told me I played by ear which was a sin, you know, and that I would never be

  • able to read these pieces because I memorized things... I didn't fall into the norm for

  • that system, so I dropped that." At the age of 8, Joni contracted polio during

  • a 1951 epidemic in Canada, the same one in which singer Neil Young, then aged 5 and living

  • in Ontario, also contracted the virus. It was the last major epidemic in North America

  • before Jonas Salk's polio vaccine was successfully tested. Bedridden for weeks in hospital, Joni

  • became aware that she would have to move across the hall and live in an iron lung for the

  • remainder of her life if her condition worsened. As she later described, it was during her

  • time in hospital that winter that she first became interested in singing. She told the

  • story later:

  • They said I might not walk again, and that I would not be able to go home for Christmas.

  • I wouldn't go for it. So I started to sing Christmas carols and I used to sing them real

  • loud... The boy in the bed next to me, you know, used to complain. And I discovered I

  • was a ham.

  • Before contracting polio, Mitchell had been interested in the arts, but she had been more

  • athletic than artistic. Once she recovered, she realized she would no longer be able to

  • compete with the fastest swimmers or runners, and to compensate she became interested in

  • dancing. At the age of 9 she began smoking, which has been a lifelong habit. Mitchell's

  • smoking has been the subject of criticism from journalists, who have blamed it for changes

  • in her voice as she has aged, but Mitchell has denied the connection, expressing no regret

  • for what she calls "my terrible habits". When Mitchell was 11 years old, her family

  • settled in the city of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, which she considers her hometown. Mitchell

  • had always been inspired by the beauty of the Canadian Prairies, but she had developed

  • into "a bad student" frustrated by the educational outlook in the provincial towns where she

  • grew up, and school in Saskatoon did not inspire her either. Mitchell's initially dedicated

  • note-taking in class would be replaced by a mess of drawings in her notebooks by year's

  • end, and her report cards would say, "Joan does not relate well." She said, "The way

  • I saw the educational system from an early age was that it taught you what to think,

  • not how to think. There was no liberty, really, for free thinking. You were being trained

  • to fit into a society where free thinking was a nuisance. I liked some of my teachers

  • very much, but I had no interest in their subjects. So I would appease them—I think

  • they perceived that I was not a dummy, although my report card didn't look like it. I would

  • line the math room with ink drawings and portraits of the mathematicians. I did a tree of life

  • for my biology teacher. I was always staying late at the school, down on my knees painting

  • something." Mitchell was drawn to art, but "growing up

  • just at the time before arts were included as a part of education... at that time I was

  • kind of a freak." In grade 7, she had "one radical teacher... a reverer of spirit...

  • He criticized my habit of copying pictures. No one else did. They praised me as a prodigy

  • for my technique. 'You like to paint?' he asked. I nodded. 'If you can paint with a

  • brush you can paint with words.' He drew out my poetry. He was a great disciplinarian in

  • his own punk style. We loved him... I wrote an epic poem in class – I labored to impress

  • him. I got it back circled in red with 'cliché, cliché.' 'White as newly fallen snow' – 'cliche';

  • 'high upon a silver shadowed hill' – 'cliche.' At the bottom he said, 'Write about what you

  • know, it's more interesting.'" Mitchell talked about "going out after the rain and gathering

  • tadpoles in an empty mayonnaise jar", and he suggested she put her experience in writing.

  • Mitchell's debut album included a dedication to that teacher, "Mr. Kratzman, who taught

  • me to love words". Mitchell wrote poetry as well. She said, "I

  • was good in composition, but I wasn't good in the dissection of English... I wasn't scholastically

  • good in it because I didn't like to break it down and analyze it in that manner, and

  • I liked to speak in slang." Mitchell said, "I finally flunked out in the twelfth grade.

  • I went back later and picked up the subjects that I lost." She said, "My identity, since

  • it wasn't through the grade system, was that I was a good dancer and an artist... I made

  • a lot of my own clothes. I worked in ladies' wear and I modeled. I had access to sample

  • clothes that were too fashionable for our community... I would go hang out on the streets

  • dressed to the T... I hung out downtown with the Ukrainians and the Indians... When I went

  • back to my own neighborhood, I found that I had a provocative image. They thought I

  • was loose because I always liked rowdies... But there also came a stage when my friends

  • who were juvenile delinquents suddenly became criminals. They could go into very dull jobs

  • or they could go into crime. Crime is very romantic in your youth. I suddenly thought,

  • 'Here's where the romance ends. I don't see myself in jail...'"

  • Mitchell loved rock and roll. She said, "When I was in my teens, rock 'n' roll was only

  • on the radio from 4 o'clock to 5 o'clock- after school- and two hours on Saturdays.

  • If you didn't have a record player and you just HAD to hear those sounds, you went where

  • there was a jukebox... I hung around two cafés that had jukeboxes. The AM Café was close

  • to my house, and the CM Café was on the other side of town and I was forbidden to go there.

  • They were owned by two Chinese guys- Artie Mack and Charlie Mack. You could loiter in

  • the booths and you could smoke there." As a teenager in the late 1950s, she said, "I

  • loved to dance. That was my thing. I instigated a Wednesday night dance 'cause I could hardly

  • make it to the weekends. For dancing, I loved Chuck Berry. Ray Charles. 'What I'd Say.'

  • I liked Elvis Presley. I liked the Everly Brothers. But then this thing happened. Rock

  • & roll went through a really dumb vanilla period. And during that period, folk music

  • came in to fill the hole. At that point I had friends who'd have parties and sit around

  • and sing Kingston Trio songs. That's when I started to sing again. That's why I bought

  • an instrument. To sing at those parties." Mitchell bought herself a ukulele in 1957.

  • She had wanted a guitar, but her mother, with rural roots herself, strongly opposed the

  • idea because of the "hillbilly" image that she connected with the guitar. Before rock

  • 'n' roll, the guitar in rural Canada had been mainly used in country and western music and

  • was still widely associated with that genre. Mitchell eventually obtained a guitar, but

  • she continued to play baritone ukulele well into the early 1960s. She initially taught

  • herself how to play guitar out of a Pete Seeger songbook, but she never finished the book.

  • Joni's left hand had been weakened by polio, and some fingerings were difficult or impossible

  • for her to execute. As she added new folk songs to her repertoire, she began to devise

  • dozens of alternative tunings that allowed her to play each song. Later this improvised

  • approach would be "a tool to break free of standard approaches to harmony and structure"

  • in her own songwriting. Joni started singing with her friends at bonfires

  • in the "northern lakes, up around Waskesiu Lake" in the early 1960s. Eventually she got

  • a few gigs in coffeehouses in Saskatoon. Joni's first paid performance was on October 31,

  • 1962, at a local club that featured folk and jazz performers. She was 18, and her record

  • collection at the time ran from American folk revivalists whose LPs were helping to expand

  • her repertoire of traditional songs, to her more personal favorites like Edith Piaf and

  • Miles Davis. Joni and her friends were interested in jazz. Though she never performed jazz herself

  • in those days, she and her friends sought out gigs by jazz musicians. Mitchell said,

  • "My jazz background began with one of the early Lambert, Hendricks and Ross albums...

  • The Hottest New Sound in Jazz [sic]. It was hard to find in Canada, so I saved up and

  • bought it at a bootleg price. I considered that album to be my Beatles. I learned every

  • song off of it, and I don't think there is another album anywhereincluding my own

  • on which I know every note and word of every song."

  • As Joni finished up high school at Aden Bowman Collegiate in Saskatoon, playing music was

  • a way to make some extra money, but she never intended to make a career of it. She wanted

  • to paint, and she left home to attend the Alberta College of Art and Design in Calgary.

  • At art school, Joni Anderson excelled academically for the first time in her life. However, she

  • struggled with the sense that she was a poorer artist than her grades indicated. She said,

  • "I found that I was an honor student at art school for the same reason that I was a bad