Canadian icon Joni Mitchell is being honoured in Los Angeles this week with a star-studded, two-day gala celebration marking her 75th birthday.
JONI 75: A Birthday Celebration is taking place on Tuesday and Wednesday at The Music Centre, where artists including James Taylor, Emmylou Harris, Norah Jones, Seal and Chaka Khan will perform songs from Mitchell’s extensive repertoire. Canadian musicians Diana Krall and Rufus Wainwright are also taking part.
Known for timeless classics such as Both Sides Now and Big Yellow Taxi, the legendary singer-songwriter is expected to make an appearance at Wednesday evening’s soirée — her actual birthday.
Mitchell has been spotted only a handful of times in public since being hospitalized for a brain aneurysm in 2015. Fans were told at the time that she was expected to make a full recovery, however details of her physical health have been kept private in recent years.
The birthday celebration — produced by Mitchell’s longtime friend Danny Kapilian — will explore the wide range and depth of Mitchell’s music, without focusing too much on her big hits.
“She’s very possibly the most brave lyricist, apart from Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen and maybe Neil [Young],” Kapilian said. “But Joni really goes to a place that even they don’t. Joni’s perspective as a woman from her place and time is unique. Her fearlessness is the main thing that I think comes through.”
Mitchell herself has had some involvement with the production, Kapilian said, offering certain suggestions and approvals.
“All I can tell you is that she’s doing fine and she’s excited to see it all,” he said. “She’s been kept in the loop the whole time.”
‘They paved paradise and put up a parking lot’
The Saskatoon-raised Mitchell became part of Southern California’s blossoming folk scene in the late 1960s.
Her breakthrough second album Clouds — featuring hits Both Sides Now and Chelsea Morning — won Mitchell her first Grammy for best folk performance. That was followed by her 1970 album, Ladies of the Canyon, featuring what would become two defining anthems: Woodstock and the environmental ode Big Yellow Taxi, with the now-famous lyrics “they paved paradise and put up a parking lot.”
“The general message of my songs, I guess, is just happiness,” Mitchell told CBC in 1967, during an interview early in her career. “Most of them have happy endings, and I don’t write protest-y things. If they protest at all, it’s very subtle.”
In all, the Saskatoon-raised musician has recorded 19 studio albums and won nine Grammy Awards, including a lifetime achievement award in 2002. She was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1997 and became a companion of the Order of Canada in 2004.
Her 1971 album Blue is ranked 30 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the “500 Greatest Albums of All Time.”
Living up to high standards
With a decades-long career of genre-transcending music, Mitchell has been notably unconcerned with seeking commercial success.
“The trick is if you listen to that music and you see me, you’re not getting anything out of it,” Mitchell said in a 2013 interview with CBC News, discussing her legacy as an artist.
“If you listen to that music and you see yourself, it’ll probably make you cry and you’ll learn something about yourself and now you’re getting something out of it.”
And the goal of this week’s productions, Kapilian said, is to “live up to her high standards.”
“She’s always seen herself, rightly, as an artist who has gone her own way, the commercial marketplace be damned,” he said. “And whoever gets it, gets it.”
A gala following Wednesday’s concert will also serve as a fundraiser to benefit The Music Center, a non-profit performing arts organization that is home to the LA Opera and LA Philharmonic.