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Joni Mitchell Triumphs at the Gershwin Prize Concert

She joined a parade of stars singing her tunes at an event you’ll see on PBS

spinner image Joni Mitchell on the red carpet for the presentation of the Gershwin Prize at DAR Constitution Hall in Washington DC
Joni Mitchell arrives at DAR Constitution Hall in Washington D.C. on March 1, 2023 for an all-star tribute concert celebrating her for being honored with the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song.
Amanda Andrade-Rhoades/AP Photo

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.

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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

spinner image Annie Lennox performs onstage at the presentation of the Gershwin Prize to Joni Mitchell at DAR Constitution Hall in Washington DC
Amanda Andrade-Rhoades/AP Photo

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.

spinner image James Taylor playing his acoustic guitar onstage while performing during the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song ceremony in Washington DC honoring Joni Mitchell
Stefani Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images

Another old beau sings her praises

James Taylor spoke fondly of his 1970–71 romance with Mitchell, and his pride and privilege in backing her up on her heartbreak album, Blue. Starting with a gorgeous guitar-picking intro, he infused her song about feeling homesick in Europe, “California,” with a delicate nostalgia. But there was a technical glitch, so he had to sing it again for the cameras. “This thing runs like a Swiss watch, huh?” he joked — and then sang it twice as well in the version you’ll see. As he sang, Mitchell, in the front row a few feet away, provided quiet percussive accompaniment, happily tapping her cane.

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spinner image Brandi Carlile singing during her performances at the presentation of the Gershwin Prize honoring Joni Mitchell
Amanda Andrade-Rhoades/AP Photo

Mitchell’s biggest young fan sings a protest song

You could feel the radiant love when Brandi Carlile, who had coaxed an apprehensive Mitchell into performing her first full concert in 20 years at the 2022 Newport Jazz Festival, sang her lesser-known anthem of anger about modern society, “Shine,” from her 2007 comeback album of the same name.

spinner image Holly Laessig, Jess Wolf, Brandi Carlile, Ledisi, Annie Lennox, Angelique Kidjo and Cyndi Lauper perform "Big Yellow Taxi" onstage at the presentation of the Gershwin Prize honoring Joni Mitchell
(Left to right) Holly Laessig, Jess Wolf, Brandi Carlile, Ledisi, Annie Lennox, Angelique Kidjo and Cyndi Lauper perform "Big Yellow Taxi."
Amanda Andrade-Rhoades/AP Photo

Mitchell gets the last word in a pop classic

Ledisi, Carlile, Lennox, Cyndi Lauper and Angélique Kidjo — whose version of “Help Me” had earlier made Mitchell dance in her seat — got the crowd on their feet with an exhilarating performance of “Big Yellow Taxi,” inspired when Mitchell looked out her Hawaii hotel window and was appalled by its vast parking lot. Mitchell has compared this song and “Circle Game” to “nursery rhymes,” and Ledisi and company sang it with utterly infectious youthful exuberance. At the end, Carlile handed the mike to Mitchell in her seat to sing the last line, “put up a parking lot,” and got a big hand. After many decades of cigarettes, it’s easy for Mitchell to hit the jokily low notes of the tune’s finale.

spinner image Cyndi Lauper singing at the 2023 Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for American Song concert honoring Joni Mitchell
Shannon Finney/Getty Images

Cyndi Lauper gets blue

Onstage, Lauper told Mitchell that “Blue” is a song “I used to sing to comfort myself,” adding, “Thank you for teaching me how to paint with words, with sounds — and with paint!” Lauper delivered a breathy, quavery, heartrending version of the hit about heartbreak, softly and brilliantly accompanied by cello, trumpet and piano. But as with Taylor, technical issues forced her to sing it a second time, and though the first take was good, the second performance (which you’ll see) soared to ethereal heights.

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spinner image Graham Nash performing onstage during the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song ceremony honoring Joni Mitchell
Amanda Andrade-Rhoades/AP Photo

Graham Nash sings a love song to his old flame

Nash spoke movingly of how bowled over he was when he met Mitchell in 1967. “She took me to her room and played me a dozen of the greatest songs I’d ever heard,” he said, and hailed her amazing recovery from calamitous illness. “ ‘Resilience’ is the right word for Joni.” Accompanying himself on guitar and harmonica, he played “A Case of You,” which may have been inspired by him (or possibly another Mitchell beau, Leonard Cohen). On the video behind him, a jagged zigzag line appeared on a photo of him and Mitchell embracing in the days when they were lovers; their faces moved apart, revealing a house, likely the “very, very, very fine house” they shared in Laurel Canyon, which inspired his song “Our House” and her Ladies of the Canyon album.

spinner image Diana Krall playing the piano during her performance at the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song ceremony honoring Joni Mitchell
Amanda Andrade-Rhoades/AP Photo

Mitchell’s British Columbia neighbor hits a high note

The evening’s most dazzling musical achievement was Diana Krall’s rendition of “For the Roses,” Mitchell’s nature-celebrating kiss-off to L.A.’s showbiz scene, written at her British Columbia home high above the ocean — right across from Krall’s home. “We’d wave at each other across the Georgia Strait,” Krall said. So when she sang, “I heard it in the wind last night/ It sounded like applause … / And the moon swept down black water / Like an empty spotlight,” Krall knew exactly what Mitchell was talking about.

spinner image Joni Mitchell holding a microphone in front of a piano onstage during her performance at the 2023 Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for American Song ceremony
Amanda Andrade-Rhoades/AP Photo

A finale that made everybody feel like a kid again

In concert in 1968, Mitchell introduced “Circle Game” — the song that landed her a recording contract — by saying, “If you know the chorus, wow — just sing along, ’cause it’s a chorus about people and growing old and growing young.” Joined by all the stars at the 2023 Gershwin concert, plus everybody in the audience (and no doubt many who will watch it on PBS), she gave a whole new meaning to its inspiring lyrics: “There’ll be new dreams, maybe better dreams and plenty / Before the last revolving year is through.”

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