Singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell, who broke through gender barriers in the 1960s and 1970s to help define an era, sang on stage for the first time in years on Friday at a musical tribute to her life by artists spanning genres and generations.
Musicians including John Legend, Cyndi Lauper, Beck, Mickey Guyton and Brandi Carlile performed favorites from Mitchell’s catalog at the annual MusiCares fundraising gala before the Grammys, held this year in Las Vegas.
Following three hours of heartfelt speeches and performances, Mitchell stood on the stage in an MGM Grand ballroom clearly overwhelmed.
“That was such an exciting musical evening for me, to hear my music performed so well by everybody who was on stage,” she said.
“I don’t know what else to say. I don’t want to say I was honored. That’s obvious.”
Mitchell then thrilled the crowd by joining several performers to sing along to “The Circle Game” and “Big Yellow Taxi.” Toward the end of the second song, the group quieted to let her finish it alone with the iconic lyric, “… and put up a parking lot.”
The Canadian-born musician, 78, has kept a low profile since working to recover from a brain aneurysm in 2015 that left her unable to speak or walk. On Friday, she walked with a cane, which she tapped along to the music.
MusiCares, the charitable arm of the Recording Academy, raises funds to help musicians struggling with health and other issues. The group said it honored Mitchell as Person of the Year because of her creative work, philanthropy and resilience.
Mitchell, whose multidimensional lyrics about conflicts resonated with listeners, is regarded as one of the most influential singer-songwriters of the Woodstock era.
Mitchell broke into an industry dominated by men and sold millions of albums, including “Clouds,” “Ladies of the Canyon” and “Blue.”
Lauper recalled hearing Mitchell’s music when she was 15. “I had never heard anyone singing so intimately about what it was like to be a young woman navigating through this world,” Lauper said.
Porter, who sang a slow, soulful version of “Both Sides, Now,” called Mitchell “a movement all by herself.”
Ahead of the event, Mitchell told Reuters on the red carpet it was “a remarkable time” for her after “Blue” hit No. 1 on the iTunes charts last year, 50 years after its release.
“Both Sides, Now” also was featured in a moving scene in Oscars best picture winner “CODA,” sung by star Emilia Jones.
“It’s a very exciting time,” Mitchell said. “This generation seems to get my work more than my own generation.”