Joni Mitchell is the latest winner of the prestigious Gershwin Popular Song Award, which puts her alongside a host of previous honorees.
When the Library of Congress announced his selection, I had to wonder why it took so long for an artist widely regarded by his peers and many music fans to recognize him as one of the best singers ever.
Mitchell celebrated the All-Star in Washington to accept the Gershwin Award for the People’s Song.
A tribute concert called “Joni Mitchell: The Library of Congress’ Gershwin Prize for Popular Song” in Washington was organized by OETA Public telecast at 9 pm on Friday, March 31, followed by a telecast several hours later on Saturday morning at 1 am
The tribute concert featured an all-star cast. Highlights included James Taylor performing Mitchell’s song “California” from his famous album, “Blue,” Herbie Hancock and Ledsi performing “River” also from the “Blue” album and Marcus Mumford performing “Carey” another song from “Blue.”
Other songs from “Blue” include Cyndi Lauper singing the title track and Mitchell’s former partner Graham Nash singing “Cause of You.”
Songs from several other Mitchell albums were performed, including Annie Lennox’s song “Both Now” and Angelique Kidjo performing “Help Me,” a song from Mitchell’s album “Court and Spark.”
Another highlight came when a group of musical artists came together onstage for an all-star rendition of Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi.” Carlili, Kidjo, Lennox, Lauper Ledisis and Lucius joined together for an energetic ensemble performance of one of Mitchell’s best known songs.
Mitchell’s nomination for the Gershwin Awards for Popular Song adds his name to a relatively short list of honorees.
It has only been in effect since 2007, with no winners being nominated for several years.
Previous award winners and the years they have received the Gershwin Popular Song Award are:
Paul Simon, 2007; Stevie Wonder, 2009; Paul McCartney, 2010; Burt Bacharach and Hal David, 2012; Charles King, 2013 and Billy Joel, 2014.
Also named as Gershwin Award winners for popular song Willie Nelson, 2015; Smokey Robinson, 2016; Carmen Bennett, 2017; Emilio and Gloria Estefan, 2019; Oklahoma’s own Garth Brooks in 2012 and Lionel Ritchie in 2012.
As I look at the list, I can immediately think of several artists whose omission at this point leaves me baffled.
Why has Brian Wilson, the famous singer and producer behind many of the Beach Boys’ greatest songs, not yet won awards? Wilson is one of the greatest songwriters of all time among his peers and fans of many arts. He has mentioned several times that he remembers hearing the first piece of music that inspired him to become a musician of George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue”.
He also released an entire album of Gershwin cover songs in 2010 called “Brian Wilson Reimagines Gershwin.”
The Beach Boys album “Pet Sounds” produced and written by Wilson lyricist Tony Asher, claims to be one of the greatest albums of all time.
What about Bob Dylan? He listed three signatures – five really, because his Great American Songbook Signatures album called “Triple” is, appropriately enough, a triple album.
The Gershwin Award is named after composer George Gershwin and his brother, Ira Gershwin, a lyricist who formed the other side of the writing team.
They wrote some of the most famous songs of all time. A few of them include: “Who Will Keep Me,” “I’ve Got a Rhythm,” “Holding You,” “Our Love Is Here to Stay,” “A Cloudy Day” and “I’ve Got a Crush on You.”
As a composer, George Gershwin wrote these works boasting “Rhapsody in Blue,” “American Paris” and “Concerto in F.”
Although Mitchell is still on the road to full recovery, she has made a remarkable comeback from the brain aneurysm she suffered in 2015, which left her not only unable to sing and sing, but also unable to walk and talk. He said he knows how to do both.
The Library of Congress’s Gershwin Popular Song Award is not the only musical event Mitchell has recently attended and is also performing at some of them.
Last July, he made a surprise appearance at the Newport Folk Festival, appearing and singing with a group of friends Brandi Carlile, Wynonna Judd, Sam Mumford and others. The best moments were when they stood up from their gilded chair to play an electric string instrumental solo in their song “Like This Train” from their famous album “Court and Sparks”. He surprised many because at one point after he suffered an aneurysm, it seemed as if he would never be able to play the guitar again.
But my favorite moment came when Mitchell performed a cover of the song “Summertime,” written by none other than George and Ira Gershwin.
He delivers another atmospheric rendition of the song on the “Joni Mitchell: Library of Congress Gershwin Popular Song Award” telecast.
Like George Gershwin, Mitchell worked in the creative use of strings, some of which he used in many open and alternate layers throughout his career. He said he started playing the guitar out of necessity, having suffered from polio as a child. The disease made it difficult at first to learn the F chord, usually one of the most challenging chords for beginning singers.
Mitchell discovered through alternate strumming that she needed to place her index finger over the first two strings as she played the traditional F.
Although Mitchell eventually adopted the older custom of playing the F Chord, he continued to use alternate turns in many of his songs, which could sometimes be a challenge for musicians of that caliber.
Initially called a folk singer, as the acoustic singer-songwriters were at the time, Mitchell soon branched out into other genres, including rock music and, significantly, jazz.
Along the way he created a unique body of work, resulting in his songs such as “Both Now,” “Circle Game,” “Help Me” and more.
He also delivered a strong group of albums, including Canyon Ladies, “For Roses,” “Blue,” “Court and Spark” and “Hejira,” to name a few.
Mitchell is not done yet, with several plans for 2023, including the possibility of a live album around July 2022 mediated by Mitchell and his musical supporters at the July 2022 Newport Folk Festival.
Mitchell is also booked for a special live performance on June 10 at the Gorge, an outdoor venue near Seattle on the Columbia River. Carlile, who has a concert at the venue on June 9, was killed as a special guest of the Mitchell show.
They delivered such a surprise with Mitchell in Newport that those attending the concert at the Gorge Amphitheater will have no doubt what to expect this time around.
Carlile, Mumford and Allison Russell, who accompanied Mitchell to Newport, were guests of Carlile’s June 9 Kill at the Gorge concert.
Of course, the next day will be around Mitchell’s June 10th concert, which will feature Carlile as a special guest for what was killed by Joni Jam.
May the good times roll on.