At 79, Joni Mitchell is back! Eight years after a brain aneurysm robbed her of the ability to speak and walk, she sang along with the talents who gathered to honor her at DAR Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C., where she received the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song on March 1. In fact, standing against a piano onstage, she sang Gershwin’s “Summertime” even better than her old beau Graham Nash sang her song “A Case of You” at the show.
It is hard to overstate the triumphant feeling that suffused the room when Mitchell flawlessly, jazzily honored Gershwin by crooning, “One of these mornings / You’re gonna rise up singing / Yes, you’ll spread your wings / And you’ll take to the sky.” Man, did she ever.
Nash was just one of the top talents — including Annie Lennox, Brandi Carlile, James Taylor, Cyndi Lauper, Marcus Mumford, Diana Krall, Ledisi, Angélique Kidjo and Herbie Hancock — who serenaded her with her own masterpieces.
Mitchell joins an illustrious roster of previous Gershwin Prize winners, such as Paul McCartney, Smokey Robinson and Paul Simon. She’s the third woman to earn the prize, after Carole King and Gloria Estefan, who appeared on a video screen onstage to extol her. Mitchell’s paintings (including a famous album cover) and photos and video of her past life formed the backdrop to the show, highlighting her parallel career as a visual artist.
“It’s overwhelming,” said Mitchell. “So many people I care about here from many parts of my life, new friends, old friends — it’s just kind of thrilling!”
Here are some highlights to watch for when the event is televised March 31, 9 p.m. ET on PBS and PBS.org.
Annie Lennox belts out Joni’s greatest hit
Lennox, who told AARP that Mitchell provided “the blueprint” for her own career in the melancholy beauty of her songs, delivered a roof-raising version of “Both Sides Now” with infinitely more oomph than the harpsichord-swathed Judy Collins version that made Mitchell famous, and a more full-throated kind of melancholy beauty. She captured the toughness in the song that’s been long overlooked.