As a singer and songwriter, Joni Mitchell has inspired several generations of musicians, both male and female, with her always fascinating evolution, from folk to pop, jazz to avante garde and later, world music. Classics like “River,” “Both Sides Now,” and “Free Man In Paris,” have made great cover material by artists both male (Neil Diamond, Barry Manilow) and female (Judy Collins, Amy Grant, Rachel Z), and her influence can be felt in the emergence of future independent female artists, from Madonna to Courtney Love. After releasing Travelogue in 2002, she announced that she was tired of the industry and was retiring; fortunately for those who appreciate her legacy, her vow was short-lived.
Born Joan Anderson in Fort MacLeod, Alberta, she showed tremendous interest in art and poetry while growing up in Saskatchewan; in her teens, she played ukelele and entertained at parties and coffeehouses in Saskatoon.
She attended the Alberta College Of Art in Calgary for a year before moving to Toronto to seek fame as a folk singer — only to be disappointed when she realized she needed a union card. By the summer of '65 she and first husband Chuck Mitchell had moved to Detroit. Mitchell played the Newport Folk Festival in 1966, but her marriage fell apart the next year and she moved to Chelsea in New York to be closer to venues on the eastern seaboard.
While performing in Florida she met David Crosby, who became her lover and helped her get a deal with Reprise Records, which released her 1968 a self titled debut. Her breakthrough as a songwriter came with Judy Collins’ rendition of “Both Sides Now.”
In 1969, Mitchell released the Grammy-winning Clouds, which included her versions of previous hit material she had donated to other artists. Moving to L.A., she opened gigs for Crosby, Stills & Nash and was invited to Woodstock that summer, but she opted for the Equinox Festival in Big Sur. Her next album, Ladies of the Canyon featured “Woodstock,” which was later a hit for Crosby, Stills & Nash.
Mitchell’s 1972 breakthrough, Blue, was an introspective acoustic effort that defined the "confessional" singer-songwriter album for years to come. 1973's For the Roses, was a jazz-oriented, piano-guitar album. Mitchell continued drawing on jazz for 1974's multiple Grammy nominated Court and Spark, which reached No. 2 and featured Tom Scott & The LA Express helping out on "Raised on Robbery," "Help Me" and "Free Man in Paris."
1975’s The Hissing of Summer Lawns took things further with an experimental mix of jazz, folk and world beat music (specifically, Burundi drumming). Hejira, released the following year, featured bass work by none other than Jaco Pastorius (of Weather Report). Her love of jazz continued on the double album Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter (1977) (which featured Chaka Khan) and Mingus (1979), a tribute to the recently-departed jazz legend.
Mitchell later signed with Geffen Records and released Wild Things Run Fast in 1982; following this she married bass player Larry Klein. Highlights of her 80s catalog include the Thomas Dolby-produced Dog Eat Dog, which featured a duet with Michael McDonald, and Chalk Mark In A Rain Storm. Her 1991 recording Night Ride Home coincided with exhibitions of her 80s canvases at galleries in London and Edinburgh. After contributing "If I Could", to Seal's 1994 album, she embarked on her first live dates in 12 years on a tour of Canada, before settling in to the studio once more to record the Turbulent Indigo, which won a 1995 Grammy for Best Pop Album.