Today, the legendary singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Joni Mitchell turns 76. A diversely talented artistic force, Joni’s career has been defined by her commitment to artistic autonomy. In addition to writing and performing her music, she is the sole record producer credited on the majority of her albums. With roots in visual art, she has also designed her own album artwork throughout her career.
Mitchell is also notably influential as a pioneering female musical auteur. In his book Rock Star: The Making of Musical Icons from Elvis to Springsteen, author David Shumway explains, “[Joni Mitchell] became the first woman in popular music to be recognized as an artist in the full sense of that term. She rose to popularity at a time when women were still primarily singers of other people’s songs and who were marketed almost exclusively on their sex appeal. Though Mitchell undeniably had the latter, it was not what made people buy her records or love her songs. Whatever Mitchell’s stated views of feminism, what she represents more than any other performer of her era is the new prominence of women’s perspectives in cultural and political life.” Mitchell’s approach to music struck a chord with many female listeners. In an era dominated by the stereotypical male rock star, she presented herself as “multidimensional and conflicted … allow[ing] her to build such a powerful identification among her female fans”.
Beyond her overall perception as an influential female musical figure, Mitchell carved out a niche with her innovative instrumental style. While some of the 9-time Grammy winner’s most popular songs were written on piano, almost every song she composed on the guitar uses an open, or non-standard, tuning. Mitchell has written songs in more than 50 different tunings, playing what she has called “Joni’s weird chords.”
To celebrate Mitchell’s 76th birthday today, take a look at some videos from years past that show off her multi-faceted musical talent:
This performance of “A Case Of You” in London from 1983 displays Mitchell’s dexterity on the dulcimer:
In this performance of “Woodstock” from a 1970 BBC live studio session, you can hear Joni talk about the record and show off her piano chops:
Finally, this live performance of “Little Green” at the legendary yet short-lived NYC venue Café Au Go Go in 1967 (before the song was released on 1971’s Blue) shows off Mitchell’s characteristically textured guitar sound:
Happy Birthday, Joni Mitchell!
[Originally published 11/7/16]