Joni Mitchell

On this date in 1943, singer-songwriter Roberta Joan “Joni” Mitchell (née Anderson) was born in Fort Macleod, Alberta, Canada, to Bill and Myrtle Anderson, a grocer and schoolteacher. She contracted polio when she was 10, later reflecting, “A great sorrow hath humanized me.” She recovered but was left with complications. After a year at the Alberta College of Art in Calgary, she moved to Toronto to become a folk singer.

Mitchell got pregnant in 1964 and gave her daughter up for adoption. Her boyfriend had left her when she was three months pregnant and broke. (She finally reunited with her daughter, renamed Kilauren Gibb from Kelly Dale Anderson,  in 1997.) She left Canada for the first time in 1965, going with American folk singer Chuck Mitchell to the U.S., where they started playing music together. They married in June 1965 when she was 21 and divorced in 1967.

Mitchell moved to New York, then to Los Angeles, soon achieving success and fame. As of this writing in 2019, she has released 19 studio albums and won nine Grammy awards. Her song “Both Sides Now” (“It’s life’s illusions I recall / I really don’t know life at all”) was recorded by Judy Collins in 1967 and became a top-10 hit. Her album “Blue” (1971) soon became a top-seller. Her songs have been covered by numerous artists. She was ranked 42nd on Rolling Stone’s “100 greatest singers” list in 2008 and in 2015 was ranked ninth on its list of the 100 Greatest Songwriters of All Time.

In her song “The Priest,” Mitchell reflects on her ambivalence toward religion. “The Magdalene Laundries” laments “Fallen women sentenced into dreamless drudgery.” “Holy War” condemns war waged in the name of religion. The title song in “Shine,” her last album (2007) attacks the Catholic Church: “Shine on the Catholic Church / And the prisons that it owns / Shine on all the churches / They all love less and less”). 

Mitchell has been confined to a wheelchair since suffering a brain aneurysm in 2015 and rarely appears in public. She attended a Blondie concert and posed for a photo with Debbie Harry in August 2019 at the Santa Barbara Bowl in California.

Mitchell performing in 1983. Capannelle photo, CC 2.0.

Freedom From Religion Foundation