Folk artist and pioneer Joni Mitchell will receive the Les Paul Innovation Award at the 35th Annual NAMM Technical Excellence & Creativity Awards (NAMM TEC Awards), being held Saturday, Jan. 18, in Anaheim, CA. The award is given on behalf of the Les Paul Foundation to honor individuals that have set the highest standards of excellence in creative application of artistry in the spirit of the audio pioneer, inventor and musician, Les Paul.
“We are excited that Joni will be the recipient of the prestigious Les Paul Innovation Award,” says Michael Braunstein, Executive Director of The Les Paul Foundation. “Like Les, she has been a trailblazer and a true renaissance woman—a songwriter, musician, producer and influencer who made her mark with very influential songs in the '60s. She has pushed the boundaries of what it means to be a female singer-songwriter over the course of her four-decade career, and like Les Paul, she’s never been scared to take creative risks. We are thrilled that Joni Mitchell will join the list of extraordinary recipients that represent the spirit of the legendary Les Paul.”
Roberta Joan Anderson (Joni Mitchell) is an accomplished musician, songwriter, poet and painter. An only child, Mitchell’s artistic talents blossomed early as she began drawing as a young child. Always a lover of music, it wasn't until high school in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan that she began performing. She bought a ukulele and soon began playing in the local club, The Louis Riel, in 1962.
Heading to art school in Calgary after graduation, Mitchell auditioned at a coffeehouse called The Depression and immediately landed a regular gig there. Weighing two viable career options—art or music—she decided to focus on the latter. In 1964, she moved to Toronto and immersed herself in the fledgling Yorkville folk scene performing in coffeehouses along with other fellow unknowns Neil Young and Gordon Lightfoot. It was during this time that Mitchell’s songwriting skills began to emerge.
Moving stateside in 1965, she worked the coffeehouse circuit for the next three years—playing as many as 20 sets a week. David Crosby caught her performance in a Florida club in 1967, was "stunned" by her talent and invited her to Los Angeles.
Soon thereafter she signed with Reprise Records. Her first record, Song to a Seagull, was released in 1968. A wholly original masterpiece buoyed by her unique songwriting and guitar style, this album still sounds fresh and timeless 50 years on.
Joni Mitchell went on to serve as producer for most of her subsequent albums. She produced and recorded Blue (1971), a unique collection of songs, performed with an emotional honesty that resonated with a wide audience. Blue is considered by many critics to be one of the best LPs of pop music ever created.
Mitchell's most commercially successful LP, Court and Spark (1974) was created with the jazz-fusion group The LA Express. The Hissing of Summer Lawns (1975) steered her away from traditional pop forms into formats of complex lyrics and melodies, accompanied by a variety of jazz musicians. Her album Hejira (1976) shed much of the instrumentation creating a minimalist recording with ambiance achieved with the help of her sound engineer, Henry Lewy, by overdubbing her electric rhythm guitar. In 1978, Charles Mingus approached Mitchell to propose a collaboration. The result was Mingus (1979), released shortly after Mingus's untimely death from ALS.
Dog Eat Dog (1985) featured Joni's exploration of sociopolitical themes set to complex synthesizer arrangements. In the 1990s, her acoustic guitar playing came back to the forefront and produced the Grammy-winning Turbulent Indigo (1994). She has also recorded an orchestral retrospective, Travelogue (2002), two live recordings, Miles of Aisles(1974) and Shadows and Light (1980), and an orchestrated collection of popular music standards, Both Sides Now (2000). In 2007, the Alberta Ballet Company staged the ballet The Fiddle and the Drum, choreographed to a collection of Joni Mitchell's recordings. Her last recording of new material was 2007’s Shine.
Although Mitchell’s sophisticated music rarely topped the pop charts (“Help Me” reached #7 in 1974), many of her songs have become classics. “River,” “Big Yellow Taxi,” and “A Case of You” are instantly recognizable. “Woodstock” has become the anthem of the '60s counterculture movement and “Both Sides Now” has been recorded more than 1,250 times by other artists.
With this award, Mitchell will join the likes of Peter Frampton, Jackson Browne, Joe Perry (Aerosmith), Don Was, Slash, Todd Rundgren, Pete Townshend, Steve Vai and others, as a Les Paul Innovation Award honoree.