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How Rufus Wainwright Finally Became a Joni Mitchell Fan Print-ready version

At his Northern Stars concert, the gay singer revealed that for years, family politics deprived him of the Canadian icon.

by Daniel Reynolds
August 21, 2017

Rufus Wainwright wasn't always a fan of Joni Mitchell.

In fact, the gay singer was banned from listening to Mitchell in his youth by his mother, folk singer Kate McGarrigle.

Wainwright discussed the long-standing ban Sunday at the Los Angeles stop of his Northern Stars concert - a tribute to Canada and its great artists. In his household, the "Big Yellow Taxi" singer "was kind of considered a sellout, because she was successful," Wainwright recounted to the crowd at the Ford Theatre. "And my mother was from this very purist group of folk - I was gonna use the word Nazi, but it's not a good time - the folk alt-right of its day."

"Another big part of it was my mom was really jealous. My mom was pretty jealous of that fame and of that success, and so I never listened to any Joni Mitchell records at all," he added.

As a result, Wainwright would not discover he was a fan of Mitchell until about three years ago, when his husband, Jörn Weisbrodt, helped honor the singer for her 70th birthday at a Toronto event he helped organize, the Luminato Festival.

"At that point, we all immersed ourselves in her material. I of course was blown away. And realized how great she was, and it was a real discovery for me, since my mother had died and I was allowed to do that," he said.

In a turn of events, Wainwright also revealed that Mitchell had hoped to attend his concert that night but had to drop out at the last minute. "She is doing very, very well," he said, to the applause of the audience.

Mitchell was one of many great Canadian musicians honored by Wainwright that night. Others included Leonard Cohen, Celine Dion, Neil Young, and Arcade Fire. Wainwright's sister, Martha, also sang a cover of one of his songs in a touching tribute.

An Evening With Rufus Wainwright was part of a series, Ignite @ the Ford!, coordinated by the Music Center and supported by L.A. County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl.

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