Artists pay tribute Joni Mitchell at pre-Grammy gala

Artists pay tribute Joni Mitchell at pre-Grammy gala

Artists pay tribute Joni Mitchell at pre-Grammy gala

Image credits: AFP

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Music’s superstars and hitmakers gathered on Friday to pay tribute to Joni Mitchell, the Canadian-born folk diva who wrote such hits as “A Case Of You,” at a charity gala held ahead of the Grammy Awards.

Mitchell, 78, wore a sequined kimono-style robe, a bejeweled black hat, and bright red nails to the MusiCares show, where Herbie Hancock, Cyndi Lauper, Angelique Kidjo, Stephen Stills, and this year’s leading Grammy candidate Jon Batiste paid tribute to her extensive work.

“It’s been quite a year,” the artist known for her distinct contralto and open-tuned guitar told journalists on the red carpet.

She was one of the Kennedy Center Honors gala inductees in December, one of America’s most distinguished cultural prizes.

Mitchell, who suffered a brain aneurysm in 2015 that left her temporarily unable to speak and required significant physical treatment in the aftermath, made a rare public appearance that evening.

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But she was smiling on Friday, telling reporters that she’s been getting artistic “ideas” while also focusing on her health.

The iconic singer, who influenced everyone from Neil Diamond to Prince, is best remembered for his very personal 1971 album “Blue,” a profound journey into emotional heartbreak.

Last summer, on the occasion of its fiftieth anniversary, “Blue” debuted at number one on iTunes, outperforming even pop sensation Olivia Rodrigo’s “Sour.”

Voicing her own astonishment over the milestone, Mitchell explained her album’s enduring popularity and recent resurgence: “Maybe people want to get a little bit deeper.”

And asked by reporters how she was feeling health-wise, she said “pretty good,” adding she’d been “making improvements.”

 

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‘Touches the world’

Jazz great Hancock — who in 2007 released a tribute album to Mitchell entitled “River: The Joni Letters” — hailed his longtime friend’s artistic “courage.”

“She bares her soul, but she does it in such a poetic way,” Hancock told AFP on the red carpet, in the hours before he delivered a performance of Mitchell’s song “Hejira” onstage.

He credited Mitchell, who is widely considered among the 20th century’s greatest songwriters — with teaching him “how to listen to lyrics.”

“Some people — and I’m one of ’em — when we listen to music, we hear the harmonies and the musical textures, and the lyrics sound like gibberish,” he continued.

Yet Mitchell’s “poetry” still strikes him, Hancock said: “Nobody writes lyrics like Joni.”

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“She’s given all of us the courage to tell the truth,” said performer Billy Porter, who paid tribute to Mitchell singing her beloved “Both Sides Now” onstage. “To use our art to grow; to use our art to heal.”

“To set some other people free — she’s powerful that way.”

MusiCares, the Recording Academy’s humanitarian arm that raises money to support musicians in need prior to the Grammy Awards, hosts the star-studded event every year.

This year’s event also featured an emotional remote performance of “A Case Of You” by Graham Nash of the folk supergroup Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, with whom Mitchell had a long and fruitful collaboration.

She dated both David Crosby and Graham Nash, and drew inspiration from the latter’s breakup for a number of the songs on the legendary “Blue,” including the moving “A Case of You.”

Neil Young appeared in a video message sending Mitchell “lots of love,” while Stephen Stills attended the ceremony in Las Vegas and praised Mitchell as “one of the great artists of this world.”

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“Back when we were kids we had a good time trying to figure out the tunings that she used. Crosby happened to be the most adept at it,” he told AFP. Crosby produced her debut album, “Song to a Seagull.”

Stills played guitar as Brandi Carlile belted out a rollicking rendition of “Woodstock” on an evening flush with performances, that left many in the room, especially Mitchell, with tears welling.

“I could retire now, and just let other people do it,” she joked when she accepted her award. “Everybody was splendid.”

“Did you enjoy it?” she asked the audience to rounds of applause, before joining the night’s performers to sing “The Circle Game” and “Big Yellow Taxi.”

Stills summed up the mood: “God bless you, Joni Mitchell, for being in our lives.”

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