Joni Mitchell: The Young Folk Icon, Then And Now

By | August 6, 2019

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Portrait of Canadian musician Joni Mitchell, November 1968, from a shoot for the fashion magazine Vogue. Photo by Jack Robinson/Getty Images

Canadian singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell is one of the unmistakable voices of the Woodstock generation, with numerous classics to her name, among them "Both Sides, Now," "Chelsea Morning," and "Big Yellow Taxi." She is notable for her constant evolution, from folk to rock to jazz. She's known for her beautiful soprano voice that made those haunting songs of love and loss even more haunting. Even though her voice has deepened due to her four pack-a-day habit, the lyrics of her songs remain universal and potent today.

Joni Mitchell grew up in rural Canada. As a teenager, she taught herself to play ukulele and eventually taught herself to play piano and guitar. She performed folk songs to earn some pocket money, but she was not interested in being a musician; she wanted to be an artist and spent a year at the Alberta College of Art and Design. She had her first club performance in 1962. In 1964, she moved to Toronto, where she met her first husband, the American singer, Chuck Mitchell. Collins was a single mother at the time, and her marriage was a marriage of convenience. At first, it seemed she and Chuck would raise her daughter, but they ended upi putting her up for adoption. The couple began to perform as a duet, though Joni continued to pursue a solo career.

Love And Suffering Provides The Fuel For Her Songs

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Fashion photo shoot, date unknown. Source: Tumblr

By 21, Mitchell had survived childhood polio and given up her daughter, providing some of the creative impetus behind her songs. But her love affairs were also a significant source of material. While she was performing in Philadelphia in 1966, she met a singer named Michael from Colorado, the inspiration for her song “Michael from the Mountains.” She had an affair with Michael, spelling an end to her marriage, though she and Chuck performed together through 1967.

After the end of her marriage, Mitchell moved to New York and had a brief romance with another musician, Steve Katz of the Blues Project, who introduced her to the drummer for the Blues Project, Roy Blumenfeld, with whom she also had a short-lived relationship. Blumenfeld would inspire part of the song “Tin Angel.”