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2002 Lifetime Achievement Award Recipient - Joni Mitchell Print-ready version

by Howie Klein
Grammy Magazine
February 24, 2002

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2002 Lifetime Achievement Award Recipient: Joni Mitchell

This Special Merit Award is presented by vote of the Recording Academy's National Trustees to performers* who, during their lifetimes, have made creative contributions of outstanding artistic significance to the field of recording. (*Through 1972 recipients included non-performers.)

I don't know if the axiom about geniuses being the toughest artists to work with has ever been proven or not, but I can gladly attest that Joni Mitchell's overwhelming artistic genius is not surpassed by anyone in our time. I recently watched a television show which referred to her as "one of the most influential female recording artists of the late 20th century."

Although she is, for me the statement rang a little hollow, inadvertently belittling what Joni Mitchell has come to mean. The category "female" in that context almost undervalues her accomplishments. In fact, among her many important accomplishments are the ones she's achieved as a smasher of false borderlines. Joni Mitchell is very much a woman, but she is first an Artist, not some member of a senseless, if not demeaning, category – "female artist." She may be Caucasian, but her music and art speak to what is in all of us that affirms our humanity, not to pigments. And if she burst onto the musical scene in 1968 with a "folk" album, no one has more consistently and more elegantly transcended musical genres and box-like creative prisons than Joni Mitchell.

This Lifetime Achievement Award isn't the result of a popularity contest and may in some ways be more significant than the various individual GRAMMYs she has been awarded for specific work over the years. This recognition of Joni Mitchell aims to celebrate the achievements of a rare person whose creative gifts have profoundly impacted and enriched the collective consciousness of humanity. She is thoroughly original and her work – as a sophisticated poet, a pioneering musician, a powerful and unique vocal stylist, and a brilliant renaissance woman – continues to inspire countless artists around the world.

Roberta Joan Anderson was born on Nov. 7, 1943 in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan and she was stricken with polio at age 9. While hospitalized she taught herself to play guitar and started singing to the other patients. Since then she has released 20 albums, none of which were mediocre or treaded water. Joni Mitchell has a restless and courageous soul and an indomitable spirit that has led her in directions that have resulted in some of the most graceful, incisive and unexpected music of any era. The product of her life thus far has been a gift to mankind.

As former president of the record label fortunate enough to be the custodian of that living, breathing, expanding legacy, I used to thank my lucky stars for the situation I found myself in, working with Joni Mitchell, hearing her music as she was making it, listening to her talk about life, even being of some assistance to her in small ways from time to time. She has always challenged me and forced me to question the most basic presuppositions I had about anything on which she chose to focus. No matter how tough it ever got, I always knew my life was so much richer because of Joni Mitchell. I can't think of anyone on earth who deserves this honor more.

(Before becoming president of Joni Mitchell's record company, Reprise, Howie Klein was the host of one of America's first punk rock radio shows,"The Outcaste Hour" on KSAN in San Francisco.)

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Added to Library on February 24, 2002. (3862)

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