Joni Mitchell Says She’s ‘Hobbling Along’ but ‘Doing All Right’
Joni Mitchell acknowledged both past and recent health issues as she accepted her Kennedy Center Honors award last night in Washington, D.C.
“I always think that polio was a rehearsal for the rest of my life,” she said, referencing a disease that nearly killed her when she contracted it at age nine. “I’ve had to come back several times from things. And this last one was a real whopper. But, you know, I’m hobbling along but I’m doing all right!”
Mitchell suffered a brain aneurysm in 2015, which severely compromised her mobility and day-to-day life.
“Once again, I couldn’t walk. I had to learn how again. I couldn’t talk. Polio didn’t grab me like that, but the aneurysm took away a lot more, really," she told The Guardian last year. "Took away my speech and my ability to walk. And, you know, I got my speech back quickly, but the walking I’m still struggling with. But, I mean, I’m a fighter. I’ve got Irish blood! So, you know, I knew, ‘Here I go again, another battle.’”
She said that receiving the Kennedy Center award, one of the most prestigious American artistic recognitions, was “a fantastic honor." She concluded her brief speech saying "Enjoy yourselves, I’m gonna go back and sit down!”
President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden were both present at the event, after former President Donald Trump chose not to attend during his tenure.
"What sets you apart, in my view," Biden said to Mitchell, "is when we listen to you — your voice, your guitar, your careful arrangements — we listen to a great song. And then, then you read the lyrics on their own, in the quiet all by themselves, and you read a great poem. You sing poetry, it seems to me."
Other honorees at the 44th annual ceremony included Motown record-label founder Berry Gordy, singer and actress Bette Midler, bass/baritone singer Justino Diaz and Saturday Night Live creator Lorne Michaels.
“Lorne Michaels – Mr. Wise Guy over here,” Biden said. “He’s trying out seven guys to play me.”
Stevie Wonder sang an array of Motown hits like "You Are the Sunshine of My Life," "Superstition" and "I Just Called to Say I Love You.” Brandi Carlile sang a rendition of the Mitchell song "River," a standout track from 1971's Blue that Carlile also performed during a special Carnegie Hall concert in honor of Mitchell.
Gordy introduced the world to talents like Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross & the Supremes, and the Jackson 5, and he credited them for helping Motown become the legendary label it is today.
“Each of the artists was just so special," he told Billboard, "I don’t know what to say, other than I’m flowing with love for these people who backed me up – and many of whom fought, cried, lived and died to make Motown what it is. It’s not only me; it’s all those people. And some unsung people you don’t hear about."
The 44th Kennedy Center Honors will be broadcast on Dec. 22 on CBS.
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