Roberta Joan Anderson was born in 1943, in Alberta, Canada. Joni struggled at school and her main interest was painting.
At age nine, she contracted polio in an epidemic and was hospitalised for weeks. One of her teachers did make an impact, stimulating her to write poetry, and her first album includes a dedication to him.
Joni taught herself to play guitar from a Pete Seeger songbook. The polio had weakened her left hand, so she devised alternative tunings to compensate; later using these to create non-standard approaches to harmony and structure in her songwriting. Joni started singing with her friends and in clubs that featured folk and jazz performers.
At the age of 20, she headed east for Toronto. On the three-day train ride she wrote her first song, Day After Day. Soon after, Joni discovered that she was pregnant by her ex-boyfriend. With no money and no support, she gave up her baby for adoption. She later identified her daughter’s birth and her inability to take care of her, as the moment when her songwriting inspiration had really begun.
In 1965 she left for Detroit with American folk singer Chuck Mitchell, where the two began playing music together and married soon after. After the marriage and partnership dissolved in 1967, Joni moved to New York City to follow her musical path as a solo artist. Several well known artists recorded her songs.
After meeting at a gig, David Crosby took her back with him to Los Angeles, where he introduced her to his friends. Her first album in 1968 featured her voice and her acoustic guitar with virtually no other accompaniment. Her second LP, Clouds, released in 1969, was a great success. The covers of both LPs were designed and painted by Joni herself. She went on to release another 17 albums in her career.
Joni Mitchell is one of the most highly regarded and influential songwriters of the 20th century and her influence on other musicians has been so broad that it is difficult to summarise. Her unflinching struggle for her own artistic independence has made her a role model for many other musicians. She is critical of the industry and of the shallowness that she sees in much of today’s popular music.
Joni Mitchell has received nine Grammy Awards during her career and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2002.