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Musical spectrum lauds Joni Mitchell Print-ready version

by Jane Stevenson
Toronto Sun
January 29, 2007

A-list stars celebrate songwriters hall induction

Joni Mitchell was 18 years old the first time she met an actual songwriter.

Apparently, it made an impression.

Some 45 years later, the highly revered Alberta-born, Saskatchewan-raised singer-songwriter was inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall Of Fame last night during a gala concert at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.

"I thought it was extraordinary that I had met a man who had wrote a song," Mitchell, 63, said after sustained and loud applause while she stood on the stage at the John Bassett Theatre.

"I was working in a coffee house in Saskatoon and I'd sung songs and I'd danced to songs but I'd never met a man who had wrote a song, and about three years, I guess, it took until I wrote my first song and, well, as you know, I wrote a lot of them, a lot of them are quite unorthodox."

Reflecting Mitchell's wide-ranging musical adventures over the last four decades -- she described herself as "a meditative artist in a calculated world" -- artists from folk, funk, jazz and opera paid tribute to her last night .

And the smiling Mitchell was clearly moved by the experience, even gamely joining in on an impromptu crowd singalong led by gala co-host Andrew Craig of Big Yellow Taxi between performances.

"It's very powerful to reminisce and to be in the company of such terrific friends," said Mitchell, who said she had pals in tow that went as far back as the fourth grade. "I'm overwhelmed at their loyalty to me over the years and how much fun we still have together. This is a great honour for all musicians. Anyone who receives this honour should be very, very proud. But we are building a heritage here in this country."

Among those honouring Mitchell was former '70s paramour and fellow singer-songwriter James Taylor.

Taylor, 58, sublimely performed Mitchell's 1969 classic Woodstock, one of five of her tunes that were also inducted into the CSHF, along with 20 other songs by various songwriters.

"I first heard Joni Mitchell's music in Paul McCartney's office at Apple Records in London in 1968," Taylor said from the stage. "We met actually here at the Mariposa festival, I think it was '70, maybe '71, I can't quite remember.

"Things are hazy from those days."

Others paying tribute to Mitchell were big-voiced funk singer Chaka Khan and jazz pianist Herbie Hancock, who joined forces on Mitchell's Help Me.

Hancock was actually asked to present Mitchell, who is also a painter, poet and photographer, with her award.

He told reporters backstage during a pre-gala cocktail reception that they first met in 1978 when she was collaborating with jazz bassist/composer Charles Mingus for her 1979 Mingus album, which would be his last. He died during the recording of it.

"Joni is a renaissance person for the 21st century," Hancock said. "She has exhibited the best qualities that the human spirit has to offer. She's a hero of mine."

Mitchell surprised many when she dropped by the pre-gala reception where she was presented with a Boucher custom-made acoustic guitar and began strumming the instrument in an impromptu moment.

That guitar presentation aside, noted Canadian author Margaret Atwood also spoke briefly before the final performance of the night by Canadian soprano star Measha Brueggergosman.

"Joni Mitchell and I have some things in common --though I'm older and she's blonder," Atwood joked.

But it was Brueggergosman who brought down the house with her thrilling performance of Mitchell's Both Sides Now, backed by an orchestra.

Other CSHF 2007 songwriter inductees included Broadway and film score creator Raymond Egan and Wilf Carter, commonly known as the father of Canadian country music.

Former Blood, Sweat and Tears frontman David Clayton-Thomas kicked off the gala concert with Spinning Wheel -- among the 25 songs inducted -- backed by about a dozen musicians, half of them horn players.

Blue Rodeo's Jim Cuddy and Oh Susanna also performed an upbeat version of the inducted tune, You Were On My Mind, written by Sylvia Fricker (Tyson), and Vancouver crooner Michael Buble sang the inducted classic How About You, co-written by Ralph Freed and Burton Lane, changing one line to "and Joni Mitchell's lyrics -- they give me a thrill!"

CBC-TV will broadcast a one-hour special on the gala nationally on March 5 at 8 p.m.

Today, CBC Radio One will feature some of the performances at 11 a.m. and CBC Radio Two will do the same at 8 p.m.

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Added to Library on January 29, 2007. (7318)


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