Joni Mitchell has a nearly 60-year history of winning Grammys, but her first actual singing appearance on the awards show didn't take place till Sunday night, as she sang "Both Sides Now" for her performance debut on the telecast.
Besides being perhaps her best-known song, "Both Sides Now" had some resonance as a performance pick for the Grammys. Her very first Grammy Award 55 years ago, back in 1969, was for the "Clouds" album, on which "Both Sides Now" appeared.
Mitchell performed the song in the format that has brought her back to the stage on just a few occasions since she recovered from a 2015 brain aneurysm: it was done "Joni Jam"-style, with the singer-songwriter seated on a comfortable-looking throne with her recent trademark cane, surrounded by similarly seated all-star accompanists - in this case, Brandi Carlile, Allison Russell, Jacob Collier, Lucius, Sista Strings and Blake Mills.
The performance followed an emotional moment at the pre-telecast Premiere Ceremony when Mitchell won yet another Grammy, picking up best folk album for "Joni Mitchell at Newport [Live]," as that recording's producer, Carlile, stood beside her. It marked Mitchell's 10th career Grammy.
In introducing Mitchell on the telecast, Carlile said, "Whether we know it or not, any one of us out here who ever dreamed of becoming a truly self-revealing singer-songwriter did it standing on the shoulders of one Joni Mitchell. Joni is one of the most influential and emotionally generous creators in human history. She redefined the very purpose of a song to reflect the contents of a person's soul. Before she took this leap, the popular song was observational... But the exhilarating risk that we all now take by turning ourselves inside out for all the world to see, started, as far as I can tell, with Joni Mitchell doing it first. She's like the first person to strip down at a skinny dipping party, to take that awkward terrifying leap - before everyone else joyfully follows."
Carlile continued, "In some ways, she didn't have a choice but to take these leaps. She was too preoccupied with basic survival. Surviving poverty, polio, and, as of 10 years ago, a near-fatal brain aneurysm, she didn't dwell too much on how her art was received because she was too busy re-learning to speak let alone sing. She's learned to walk three times. Joni just turned 80, my friends! But we all know she's timeless. If we are so lucky that history remembers any of us, one thing I know for sure is that it will remember that we lived in the time of Joni Mitchell. Today she just won the Grammy for best folk album... Please welcome the matriarch of imagination, a true renaissance woman, my hero and yours, Joni Mitchell."
The Grammy performance came on the heels of a gradual return to live appearances Mitchell has made in the last two years - three concerts in which she was joined by Brandi Carlile and other friends in "Joni Jam" celebratory ensembles, soon to be followed by a pair of shows at the Hollywood Bowl this coming October.
Mitchell was assumed by many to retired from public performances after she suffered a debilitating brain aneurysm in 2015. Then word got out that she was actively participating in informal musical gatherings at her home that came to be referred to as "Joni jams." The concept went public when she was at the center of a surprise "Joni jam" at the Newport Folk Festival in July 2022 - a gig captured for posterity on her currently Grammy-nominated live album.
She made two more subsequent public concert appearances last year - an officially advertised "Joni Jam" at the Gorge in Washington state last summer, followed by a Brandi Carlile & Friends show at the Hollywood Bowl in the fall that largely turned out to be another Mitchell-centric ensemble gig.
Mitchell's previous Grammy wins span a period from 1969, when she won best folk performance for "Clouds," to 2022, when she won best historical album for the boxed set "Joni Mitchell Archives - Vol. 1: The Early Years (1963 - 1967)." Her only win in one of the top four general categories came at the 50th annual Grammys, when she was one of multiple winners of album of the year for "River: The Joni Letters," as one of the guest singers on Herbie Hancock's tribute album.
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