1. The Polar Music Prize Ceremony
2. Growing up in Canada
3. Destined for big things
4. Mainstream Success
5. Blue
6. Experimenting with new sounds
7. Jazz
8. Exploring electronics
9. The nineties and onwards
1996 Laureate


Among women in rock music, taking that genre in the broad sense, Joni Mitchell is perhaps the most talented and versatile. In a long career of prolific and many-sided artistry, she has combined the roles of composer, lyric writer, vocal artist and musician with an impressive array of “first instruments."


On stage at the prize ceremony with fellow Laureate Pierre Boulez.

Stockholm, May 1996

The 5th Polar Music Prize Ceremony was held at Berwaldhallen in the month of May 1996. The evening continued with a banquet in Vinterträdgården at Stockholm’s Grand Hôtel.

HM King Carl XVI Gustaf presented the Prize to Joni Mitchell, the first female Laureate in the prize’s history, and French composer and conductor Pierre Boulez.

The citation for Joni Mitchell was read by Swedish conductor and composer Anders Berglund.

To honour the Laureates, music was performed by the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra and, among others, internationally acclaimed Swedish artist Marie Fredriksson from Roxette.

Joni Mitchell performed herself at the banquet. 

Receiving the prize from H.M. King Carl XVI Gustaf.

Citation for Joni Mitchell read by Anders Berglund.

At the banquet with H.M. King Carl XVI Gustaf.

1996 Polar Music Prize Marie Fredriksson "Watercolours in the rain."
Joni Mitchell performing at the banquet.

Growing up in Canada

Joni Mitchell was born Roberta Joan Anderson on November 7, 1943 in Fort McLeod, Alberta, Canada. In her early teens she was drawn to the arts and popular music of the day, teaching herself guitar with the help of a Pete Seeger instruction book. After high school she moved to Calgary and enrolled in the Alberta College of Art and Design.

In Calgary she began playing small gigs around town for extra cash, before dropping out of school and moving to Toronto to pursue her musical career. She started performing at the Penny Farthing, a folk music club in Toronto. There she met Chuck Mitchell, an American folk music singer.

Mitchell taught herself guitar with the help of famous folk singer Pete Seeger’s instruction book. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Joni Mitchell, Jan, 1969. Fort McLeod (Source: Library and Archives Canada)

Destined for big things

Joni and Chuck Mitchell moved to Detroit, Michigan, where they began performing together. They eventually separated, and Joni Mitchell moved to New York City to pursue her solo career. She played gigs up and down the East Coast and became known for her songwriting skills and smoky, distinctive vocals. After seeing her play live at a gig in Florida, David Crosby invited Mitchell to Los Angeles and produced her self-titled debut album which was released in 1968.

David Crosby in a rare solo performance of Mitchell's "For Free" at his home in Southern California.

Mainstream Success

Continued touring and extra exposure through a multitude of artists covering her songs gained Mitchell an ever-growing fan base. In 1969 she followed up her debut album with Clouds, a contemplative folk rock album that charted in the Top 40 in both Canada and the United States and won Mitchell a Grammy for Best Folk Performance in 1970.

Shortly after winning the Grammy, Mitchell released her third album Ladies of the Canyon. The album was a hit and charted in Australia, Canada, the UK and the United States. The album also featured the songs “Woodstock” and “Big Yellow Taxi” which have lived on through the years in numerous cover versions.

Clouds - Album cover

Ladies of the Canyon


In 1971 Mitchell released Blue, an almost instant critical and commercial success and an album that is often seen as the high point of her folk rock career. At the same time the album showed a new depth to Mitchell’s songwriting, moving away from some of her earlier sounds and the constraints of acoustic folk into more intricate and diverse compositions, a move that set the stage for the experimentation of her later work.

Blue - Album cover

Chan Marshall performing Joni Mitchell's Blue in 2008. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Experimenting with new sounds

After Blue, Mitchell began to depart from her folk rock roots and explore new musical styles. This exploration first manifested itself on 1972’s more pop-oriented For the Roses which included the hit single "You Turn Me On (I'm a Radio)." She followed this with Court and Spark in 1974.

The record contained hints of jazz and became her most commercially successful album, reaching #2 on the U.S. album charts and launching three hit singles – "Help Me," "Free Man in Paris," and "Raised on Robbery." Mitchell’s next studio album, The Hissing of Summer Lawns (1975), took the earlier hints at jazz even further, with song arrangements that were increasingly avant-garde, experimental and laced with jazz influences.

Live at the Universal Amphiteatre, Los Angeles in 1974. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The Hissing of Summer Lawns


The earlier experiments with jazz eventually manifested themselves in the ambitious double record Don Juan's Reckless Daughter. The 1977 album featured a collection of long and largely improvisational pieces that she recorded with jazz musicians Jaco Pastorius, Don Alias, Polar Music Prize Laureate Wayne Shorter, and Chaka Khan, among others. Not long after the record's release, Mitchell was contacted by jazz legend Charles Mingus, who invited her to work with him on a project. In the middle of the collaboration Mingus passed away, and Mitchell was left to finish the tracks on her own, which she released under the title Mingus in 1979.

Joni Mitchell & Jazz

Jam super session on Showtime Coast to Coast with host Herbie Hancock, as well as Bobby McFerrin, Wayne Shorter, David Sanborn, and Larry Klein, 1987.

Exploring electronics

"(You're So Square) Baby I Don't Care," an Elvis Presley cover from the album Wild Things Run Fast, signaled Mitchell's return to pop territory and was her first chart single in eight years. Shortly after the album's release, she married bassist Larry Klein who went on to become a frequent collaborator on much of her subsequent material, including the more synth-inspired "Dog Eat Dog". Mitchell's move into electronics continued with 1988s Chalk Mark in a Rain Storm, which featured guest appearances by Polar Music Prize Laureate Peter Gabriel, Willie Nelson, Tom Petty and Billy Idol.

Publicity photo, 1988 (Source: Geffen/Universal)

Interview on Swedish Radio (SR) in 1988.

The nineties and onwards

The 1990s marked another productive decade in Mitchell's career. Her first release of the decade, Night Ride Home, was an album that went back to the stripped-down voice and guitar combination of her beginnings. In 1996, she compiled a pair of anthologies: Hits and Misses, which collected both her past hits as well as lesser known darlings. She then went on to release a studio album, Taming the Tiger, and a collection of standards, Both Sides Now, before the end of the century.

In October 2002, Mitchell announced that the album Travelogue would be her last, and that she would retire from the recording industry. The album was a fitting send-off, re-interpreting her repertoire with a London-based symphony orchestra. Mitchell was not completely done recording however, and another new album, Shine, was released in 2007.

Travelogue, the summary of a career?

1998 performance of "Big Yellow Taxi" including a perfect Bob Dylan imitation.

Content of biography is presented here as it was published in 2012.

All pictures from the ceremony and banquet by © Polar Music Prize.

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