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Mitchell strikes a chord   Print

by Greg Quill
Toronto Star
January 29, 2007

New member of Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame says success 'was just in my stars'

Joni Mitchell's shining moment last night was not when she mounted the stage at Metro Toronto's John Bassett Theatre to be inducted by renowned American jazz composer Herbie Hancock into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame.

Mitchell seemed uneasy with the outpouring of adoration and applause that followed James Taylor's sonorous rendition of Mitchell's "Woodstock" and a raucous funk version of "Help Me" by American R&B singer Chaka Khan. She cut short her acceptance speech, quipping, "I'd better take my award and get out of here."

She thanked companions in the audience, "friends going back to fourth grade, old friends, new friends, so many friends," and explained that her success as a composer and musician was inspired by "a need to explore ... it was just in my stars and there's nothing I can do about it."

But last night's celebrations could have happily ended 30 minutes earlier, at the conclusion of a campfire-like singalong of her signature piece, "Big Yellow Taxi," led by Andrew Craig, emcee and host of CBC Radio Two's In Performance.

Mitchell's face lit up like a child's when 2,000 or more voices broke into wholehearted song, roaring every word, with just minimal rhythm strummed by band guitarist Kevin Breit. Seated in the front row, the otherwise sedate inductee sang along too, at the top of her voice, her head thrown back, smiling and radiant.

The Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame, now its fourth year, is prone to such emotional episodes. The songs it celebrates, written by Canadians going back 100 years and more, have the power to strike a resonant chord in the hearts of listeners, as several by Quebec songwriter Jean-Pierre Ferland did last night as well.

"Music has no religion, no politics, no solitude," Ferland said, after a riveting performance of his "Un peu plus haut, un peu plus loin" by Isabelle Boulay. "Music is just a noise, a wonderful noise, and I'm just grateful to be a part of it."

Mitchell, Ferland and Nova Scotia-born country music star Wilf Carter, who died in 1996, were among four inductees in last night's ceremony.Broadway and film score creator Raymond Egan, whose big-band-era classic "How About You?" was given a rousing treatment by Canadian crooner Michael Bublé, was also inducted.

Among several memorable performances of songs that entered the Hall of Fame last night were Canadian soprano Measha Brueggergosman's dramatic version of Mitchell's "Both Sides Now," which closed the show, and David Clayton-Thomas's opener, a muscular revision of "Spinning Wheel," the million-selling hit he wrote for Blood Sweat & Tears.

A go-for-broke vocal duet featuring Blue Rodeo's Jim Cuddy and Toronto singer-songwriter Oh Susannah reworking the 1960s pop hit "You Were On My Mind," by Sylvia Tyson, was another crowd-pleaser. Calgary songwriter Corb Lund almost stole the show in its early stages with a country string band boogie take on Carter's "There's A Love Knot In My Lariat," and Nova Scotia-born contemporary country music star George Canyon almost brought down the house with a heartfelt reading of Carter's "My Old Canadian Home."

The ceremony and tribute concert airs today at 11 a.m. on CBC Radio One and at 8 p.m. on CBC Radio Two. A one-hour TV special will air March 5 on CBC.

 

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