WOMEN’S HISTORY MONTH: ON JONI’S CAROUSEL


Closing out Women’s History Month on an exceptionally high note, PBS will present Joni Mitchell: The Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song on Friday (3/31). The program captures an all-star concert that took place at DAR Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C., on 3/1.

It was arguably the ultimate “Joni Jam”—an ongoing gathering the 79-year-old legend has been hosting at her home with artists and friends spanning generations. (We’re guessing this will be the last one Kevin McCarthy and his GOP compadres get invited to.)

The special kicks off with Marcus Mumford performing “Carey,” while Cary Raditz—the “mean old daddy” of the lyric—smiles on from the audience.

Brandi Carlile then narrates Mitchell’s life in images, from an only child seeking comfort and companionship in art and music to her coltish days playing coffeehouses in her native Canada and folk clubs in New York to her assumption of a prominent place alongside Laurel Canyon luminaries like Carole King, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and The Mamas & The Papas.

Meanwhile, Mitchell’s paintings, many of them self-portraits that also served as album covers, grace the stage’s backdrop. In addition to art direction and package design, the singer-songwriter oversaw practically every aspect of her projects, including arranging and producing. It’s the kind of trailblazing feminist stuff that inspires Cyndi Lauper’s heartfelt gratitude prior to her stirring version of “Blue” from the universally revered 1971 Reprise album of the same name.

Punctuated by pre-recorded tributes from such previous Gershwin Prize honorees as King (2013), Smokey Robinson (2016), Gloria Estefan (2019) and Lionel Richie (2022), the performances reinforce the genre-defying breadth of Mitchell’s repertoire, whether it’s Annie Lennox’s mesmerizing take on “Both Sides Now,” James Taylor’s folk-forward "California" or the jazz grooves brought by Herbie Hancock and Ledisi to “River.”

Carlile, along with LuciusHolly Laessig and Jessica Wolfe, provides backing vocals for many of those present and puts her own stamp on “Shine,” the title track from Mitchell’s last studio album (Hear Music/Universal), released in 2007. The three also join Angelique Kidjo, Lauper, Ledisi and Lennox to rock “Big Yellow Taxi,” ultimately approaching a beret-crowned Mitchell in the front row, who delivers the last few words.

Mitchell brings down the house when she takes the stage for “Summertime”—her favorite Gershwin composition—and an emotionally charged rendition of “The Circle Game” from 1970’s Ladies of the Canyon (Reprise), proving she has more than recovered from the 2015 brain aneurysm that left her temporarily unable to speak or move. On 6/10 Carlile will join Mitchell on the honoree's first headlining concert in over two decades, at the Gorge Amphitheatre in Washington state.

In conversation with Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden the following day, Mitchell said, “The musical excitement of last night was very intense. You have my beautiful band, which is my generation, and then all these young’uns too. They’re playing with musicians who were their heroes… It was beautiful.”

Established in 2007, the Gershwin Prize honors living artists whose music carries forward the excellence of George and Ira Gershwin.

Joni Mitchell: The Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song, a co-production of WETA, Ken Ehrlich Productions, Inc. and the Library of Congress, will be available via broadcast (9pm ET) and on PBS.org and the PBS app as part of the Emmy Award-winning Gershwin Prize music series and to U.S. Department of Defense locations around the world via the American Forces Network.

Ensemble photo: Shawn Miller, Library of Congress

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