See Folk Legend Joni Mitchell Now at 78
The singer-songwriter was one of the biggest stars of the '60s folk boom.
Joni Mitchell is one of the most prolific and celebrated songwriters of all time. The artist began her career in Canada, where she was born and raised (as Roberta Joan Anderson), before settling down in Southern California and becoming a staple of the folk community there. Mitchell released her first album in 1968 and her last, reportedly forever, in 2007. She's performed all over the world and is best known for the songs "Big Yellow Taxi," "The Circle Game," and, if we're really being honest, the entire Blue album. Read on to learn more about what the already legendary folk musician is doing today.
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She taught herself to play music.
Mitchell explained in a 1968 interview with Broadside that she was always into music and that it was something her parents encouraged. She learned classical piano as a kid, then decided to pick up the ukulele, because her mom thought the guitar was associated with "hillbilly" music—i.e. country. Soon, Mitchell got into guitar anyway, teaching herself how to play using a Peter Seeger songbook. (She and Seeger would later perform together, and he'd contribute a verse to a new version of her song, "Both Sides, Now.")
Mitchell also showed her independence through her visual art—she designed and painted many of her album covers.
She wasn't actually a fan of the counterculture of the 1960s.
Although she was part of the folk music boom of the '60s, Mitchell didn't embrace of approve of the counterculture movement. She said in a 2013 CBC interview that she thought that hippies were born to conservative, uptight parents and because of this, became "this liberated, spoiled, selfish generation into the costume ball of free love, free sex, free music, free, free, free, free we're so free." She continued, "And Woodstock was the culmination of it."
That declaration may have come as a surprise to fans of her music. Though Mitchell didn't perform at Woodstock herself, she did write a popular song about the 1969 festival, which seems to view the event and its attendees in a positive light.
"I was not a part of the anti-war movement, either," she also said in the CBC interview, however, referring to the protests against the Vietnam War. "I played in Fort Bragg. I went the Bob Hope route [performing for troops], because I had uncles who died in the war, and I thought it was a shame to blame the boys who were drafted."
Recently, however, Mitchell proved that she's not averse to protesting for what she believes in. She joined her friend and fellow artist Neil Young in removing her catalog from Spotify in response to the streaming service supporting and platforming Joe Rogan, whose popular podcast has spread COVID misinformation. "Irresponsible people are spreading lies that are costing people their lives," she said in a statement, via Variety. "I stand in solidarity with Neil Young and the global scientific and medical communities on this issue."
She was reunited with her adopted daughter as an adult.
In 1965, Mitchell had a daughter by an ex-boyfriend. At the time, she couldn't afford to bring the child up, so the future star gave her up for adoption—a fact that remained private for decades. Mitchell and her biological daughter, Kilauren Gibb, finally met in 1997 and began forging a relationship. Mitchell was also introduced to her only grandson at the time.
"We both were very excited about meeting," Mitchell said afterwards. "I'm thinking, 'What if she doesn't like me? She probably won't like me. You know, there's going to be issues here.'"
"When we met at the front door, in the kitchen, we hugged," Gibb said. "It felt like I had gone away on a trip for a few months, and I was coming home."
Mitchell never had another other children, though she's been married twice: first to Chuck Mitchell, from 1965 to 1967, and then to Larry Klein, from 1984 to 1994. These days, the songwriter is single.
She's dealt with some major health issues.
In 2015, Mitchell had a brain aneurysm that she is still recovering from. At that point, she had already announced that she was done with touring and making albums, but Mitchell became even more private afterwards. It wasn't until 2020 that the artist gave her first interview about her recovery. While she had polio as a kid and also suffers from Morgellons disease, but said that coming back from her aneurysm has been the hardest thing she's had to do in her life. She told The Guardian, "Polio didn't grab me like that, but the aneurysm took away a lot more, really. Took away my speech and my ability to walk. And, you know, I got my speech back quickly, but the walking I'm still struggling with."
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She's been honored many, many times for her contributions to music.
While Mitchell no longer tours or records new albums, she is frequently honored and has occasionally taken part in those celebrations of her achievements. In 1997, Joni was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. She's won nine Grammys, and in 2021, was one of the recipients of the 44th Kennedy Center Honors. Just this month, MusiCares celebrated Mitchell as "Person of the Year" during their annual gala, which featured performances by Chaka Khan, Herbie Hancock, Jon Batiste, and more famous admirers. And she made what many referred to as a "rare" public appearance to present at this year's Grammys ceremony. Fans have also been treated recently to previously unreleased material, including Joni Mitchell Archives–Vol. 1: The Early Years 1963-1967, Joni Mitchell Archives–Vol. 2: The Reprise Years 1968-1971, and Blue 50, celebrating the iconic album's golden anniversary.