Roberta Joan Anderson was born in 1943 in Fort McLeod, Alberta. Aged 11 onwards she was raised in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. The nine year old Roberta contracted polio and spent a long time in hospital where she became interested in singing. She could play the piano then later taught herself to play the guitar and ukulele. As a teenager she busked and played in local coffee houses before moving to Toronto where her original approach soon attracted attention from folk audiences. In 1965 she married Chuck Mitchell and took the surname as her stage name. The marriage did not last long and Joni Mitchell moved to New York in 1967, where she released her first album, Songs to a Seagull (1968).
The album was produced by Dave Crosby and featured Stephen Stills on Night in the City. Dave encouraged the singer to move to San Francisco. Joni’s songs were strengthened by her extraordinarily wide-ranging voice. To begin with she had a range in pitch which covered over four octaves. Joni also used an open or non standard style of guitar tuning which allowed her to strike and slap the guitar. She also used picking and strumming techniques to explore different harmonies. The songwriter’s introspective lyrics and adventurous music won her many devoted female fans and when Judy Collins released her version of Joni’s “Both Sides Now” it became a massive hit in 1968.
New interest in Joni’s body of work meant her own records started to sell well. Joni moved to California in 1969 where she established herself as leading luminary of folk rock. Joni and Graham Nash lived together in Laurel Canyon in the Hollywood Hills. Graham Nash later memorialized the period in the Crosby, Stills, and Nash song "Our House."
Some of her best commercial works were recorded during the early seventies including Clouds (1969); Ladies of the Canyon (1970); Blue (1971); and Court and Spark (1974).
By the end of the 70s her commercial appeal was less obvious although she continued to produce excellent music and transcended into jazz with the albums Hejira (1977) and Mingus (1979) a tribute to jazz bassist Charlie Mingus.
By the eighties Joni was recording less and her output included more mainstream pop, with "(You're So Square) Baby I Don't Care" charting.
Critics started to notice a change in the singer’s voice and when she sought medical attention it was discovered she had a compressed larynx with nodules on her vocal chords. Now singing in a lower register she carried on performing and recording. Many if her album covers display Joni’s artwork which has made them very collectable. Joni Mitchell has been a great influence on countless other artists and many have recorded her songs, including: the Counting Crows, Tom Rush, Ian and Sylvia, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Dave Van Ronk, Fairport Convention, Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, Jame Taylor, Annie Lennox, George Michael, Clannad, Paul Young and Prince, among many more. Sadly it was confirmed in May, 2015, Joni Mitchell had suffered a brain aneurysm but with treatment and rest a full recovery is expected.
Worth a listen:
Big Yellow Taxi (1970)
Chelsea Morning (1970)
Ladies of the Canyon (1970)
The circle game (1970)
A case of you (1971)
You turn me on I’m a radio (1972)