Ellie Goulding, Norah Jones and Brittany Howard were among the artists that paid tribute to Joni Mitchell at the ceremony for this year’s Kennedy Center Honors, where the iconic singer-songwriter received a lifetime achievement award.
All of the performers put their own spins on classics from Mitchell’s discography, which between 1968 and 2007, spanned 19 studio albums. Goulding performed Mitchell’s 1970 hit ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ (which first appeared on the honouree’s third album, ‘Ladies Of The Canyon’), while Howard and Herbie Hancock joined forces for a rendition of ‘Both Sides, Now’ (from 1969’s ‘Clouds’).
Jones delivered a medley of Mitchell’s tracks, with the keystone being 1974’s ‘Help Me’ (Mitchell’s biggest-ever hit, from that same year’s ‘Court And Spark’ album). The ceremony took place on December 5 at the John F. Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, with a recording aired on CBS yesterday (December 22).
Take a look at the aforementioned tributes below:
“That you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.”
@jonimitchell lyrics sing true, even today. Watch #EllieGoulding’s performance of “Big Yellow Taxi” on #KCHonors. pic.twitter.com/VVU8dVwM3O
— CBS (@CBS) December 23, 2021
“We love our lovin’. But not like we love our freedom” 🎶
The lovely @NorahJones honors @jonimitchell by performing Joni’s classic “Help Me” at the #KCHonors. pic.twitter.com/2LYAZB71wD
— CBS (@CBS) December 23, 2021
Though a recording of her tribute is yet to be released, Brandi Carlile also performed, covering Mitchell’s 1971 track ‘River’. Among those that delivered speeches honouring Mitchell was US President Joe Biden – marking the first time a president had attended the ceremony since 2016 – who said: “Your words and melodies touch the deepest parts of our souls.
“[Mitchell has] a capacity to love with abandon, and she does it by letting us in, by sharing what’s deeply personal and yet universal. It’s why millions of people will listen to her songs and feel they were written just for them.
“You’re a master at your craft, and what sets you apart, in my view, is when we listen to you – your voice, your guitar, your careful arrangements – we listen to a great song. And then you read the lyrics on their own, in the quiet, all by themselves, and you read a great poem. You sing poetry, it seems to me, and I’m no artist.
Biden went on to list some of Mitchell’s accomplishments, such as her eight Grammy Awards and 17 nominations, and the declaration that ‘Blue’ is “one of the best albums ever, ever, ever”. He praised Mitchell for “[touching] the range of human nature and the sense of struggle and how we overcome and how we love”, before congratulating her for the prestigious honour.
Others honoured at the ceremony included Bette Midler, Motown founder Berry Gordy and Saturday Night Live creator Lorne Michaels.
In her own speech at the event – a rarity for the artist, following a 2015 aneurysm that left her temporarily unable to walk or talk – Mitchell touched on her ongoing health issues. “I always think that polio was a rehearsal for the rest of my life,” she said, referring to the disease she suffered aged nine. “I’ve had to come back several times from things. And this last one was a real whopper. But, you know, I’m hobbling along but I’m doing all right!”
Earlier this summer, Mitchell was named as MusiCares’ 2022 ‘Person Of The Year’. She’ll be at the centre of a tribute concert held by MusiCares – the charity arm of The Recording Academy, which hosts the annual Grammy awards – on January 29, 2022, during Grammy Week in Los Angeles.