SHE CITES EDITH PIAF AND BOB DYLAN AS INSPIRATION - AND you hear them both in her own elliptical, allusive compositions. Joni Mitchell has proven adept at weaving tapestries of jazz and rock as at stitching complex stories on the clean cloth of her acoustic guitar. And her songs have stood up to renderings by others: covered by Judy Collins and Frank Sinatra, sampled by Janet Jackson.
Born in Alberta, Canada, Roberta Joan Anderson suffered from polio at 9 and later taught herself guitar. A year out of high school she married Chuck Mitchell, a musician she had known for three days, and divorced him after a year. Unknown and broke when she got pregnant, she gave up a daughter for adoption. (She later married and divorced producer Larry Klein, and was reunited with her daughter in 1995.) She then hit the New York folk scene. Discovered by David Crosby, she launched a career that hit early highs with Blue and Court and Spark. In the 1980s she explored all the music curiosity led her to, including African rhythms, even if fans or critics didn't follow. Still Mitchell, now 54, does not seem to miss the early days when she was idolized. Says she: "I slept through that queendom."
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