The music legend and hitmaker appeared Friday to honor Joni Mitchell — the Canadian-born folk icon behind classics including ‘A Case Of You’ — at a charity gala ahead of the Grammys that featured a heartwarming tribute and teary eyes.
The 78-year-old Mitchell wore a sequined kimono-style cape, jeweled black beret and bright red nails at the MusiCares show where artists including Herbie Hancock, Cyndi Lauper, Angelique Kidjo and Stephen Stills, along with this year’s leading Grammy nominee Jon Batiste, pays homage to his extensive work.
“It’s been quite a year,” the artist known for his contraltos and different open-tuned guitars told reporters on the red carpet.
In December he was among those inducted at the Kennedy Center Honors gala, one of America’s most prestigious arts awards.
The evening marked a rare public appearance for pioneer Mitchell, who in 2015 suffered from a brain aneurysm that left him temporarily unable to speak, the result of which involved extensive physical therapy.
But on Friday he shone, telling reporters he had an artistic “idea” even as he continued to focus on improving his health.
The influential artist who inspired everyone from Neil Diamond to Prince is perhaps best known for his deeply personal 1971 album “Blue,” diving deep into emotional heartache.
Last summer “Blue” topped iTunes at number one as it reached its fiftieth birthday — even ahead of pop sensation Olivia Rodrigo’s “Sour.”
Expressing his own astonishment at the milestone, Mitchell explained the album’s enduring popularity and recent resurgence: “Maybe people want to get a little deeper.”
And asked by reporters how he felt about his health, he said “quite well,” adding that he had “made improvements.”
– ‘Touch the world’ –
Jazz great Hancock — who in 2007 released a tribute album to Mitchell entitled “River: The Joni Letters” — praised his old friend’s artistic “boldness”.
“He shows off his soul but he does it in such a poetic way,” Hancock told AFP on the red carpet, hours before she performed Mitchell’s song “Hejira” on stage.
He credits Mitchell, widely regarded as the greatest songwriter of the 20th century — for teaching him “how to listen to lyrics.”
“Some people — and I’m one of them — when we listen to music, we hear the harmonies and textures of the music, and the lyrics sound like gibberish,” he continued.
Yet Mitchell’s “poetry” still surprises him, Hancock says: “No one writes lyrics like Joni.”
“He gave us all the courage to tell the truth,” said performer Billy Porter, who paid tribute to Mitchell singing his beloved song “Both Sides Now” on stage. “To use our arts to grow; to use our arts to heal.”
“To free some other people — he’s strong that way.” The star-studded gala is an annual tradition of MusiCares, the charitable arm of the Recording Academy that raises money to help musicians in need before the Grammy Awards.
This year’s celebrations also saw the long-distance performance of “A Case Of You” by Graham Nash, of folk supergroup Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, a band that was heavily influenced and shared a rich working relationship with Mitchell.
She also dated David Crosby and Nash, and mined the final breakup for inspiration on a number of songs that comprise the song “Blue”, including the touching “A Case of You”.
Neil Young appeared in a video message sending Mitchell “a lot of love,” while Stephen Stills attended a ceremony in Las Vegas and praised Mitchell as “one of the great artists of this world.”
“Back when we were kids we had fun trying to figure out which barrel he was using. Crosby just happens to be the best at it,” he told AFP. Crosby produced his debut album, “Song to a Seagull.”
Stills plays guitar as Brandi Carlile sings the rapturous “Woodstock” on a night full of performances, which leaves many in the room, especially Mitchell, with tears in their eyes.
“I can retire now, and let someone else do it,” he joked as he accepted his award. “Everyone is amazing.”
“Did you enjoy it?” he asked the audience to applaud, before joining the night’s performers to sing “The Circle Game” and “Big Yellow Taxi.”
Stills summed up the scene: “God bless you Joni Mitchell, for being in our lives.”
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