LAS VEGAS (AP) – An 81-year-old jazz giant and a 15-year-old rock singer were the first to pay tribute to Joni Mitchell on Friday night.
Such was the diversity of artists who honored a very diverse artist, Mitchell, a Canadian who became-Californian, folkie-turning-rocker-formed-jazz explorer, who was honored as the MusiCares Person of the Year 2022 of the Year by the Recording Academy two days before the Grammy Awards.
Herbie Hancock played a jazz piano rendition of music from Mitchell’s 1976 album “Hejira”, followed by a rocking version of “Help Me” from 1974 by Violet Grohl, the teenage daughter of Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl, to open the tribute concert in a ballroom at the MGM Grand Las Vegas.
Mitchell, who was sitting at the front table, took the teenager forward in many of the older entertainers.
“When I first heard Joni Mitchell, it was 1968, and I was 15 years old,” said Cyndi Lauper, now 68. “I had never heard anyone sing so intimately about what it was like to be a young woman navigating in this world.”
Lauper recited several of Mitchell’s remarks that touched her most before starting in “Magdalene Laundry” while playing mountain dulcimer.
“I do not know how to do what you do, I just know I need it like food,” Meryl Streep said in a video message played for Mitchell and the audience. “Ever since we were both young girls. We did not know each other, but you sang to me. You sang my life. ”
Seven years after a brain aneurysm that made her temporarily unable to walk or talk, Mitchell, 78, was happy to be in Las Vegas and out at a major public event for the first time since the pandemic began.
“I had the best margarita I’ve ever had at our hotel,” she told the Associated Press as she walked into the gala.
Mitchell is the presenter and nominee for best historical album at Sunday’s Grammys. She says she has always been in the genres and categories that are not included in the Grammy broadcast.
“I usually win the awards behind the curtain,” she said with a laugh.
Inside, sitting at a table with Hancock and director Cameron Crowe, Mitchell often showed up close to tears as a parade of artists praised her before bidding on her songs.
“Not unlike people who lived in the time of Shakespeare and Beethoven, we live in the time of Joni Mitchell, and it shows tonight,” said Brandi Carlile, who sang a version of “Woodstock” that began as a quiet ballad before the house band started , and Stephen Stills – who played the most famous version of the 1970 song with Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young – joined her for an electric guitar solo.
In a new approach to this year’s MusiCares tribute, organizers named Carlile, who is up to five Grammy Awards on Sunday, and Jon Batiste, who is up to 11, as music directors to coordinate the artists and their approaches to the difficult genre bending . songs from Mitchell’s five decades of career.
“We helped shepherd artists to their Joni songs, the ones their souls were connected to,” Carlile told the AP. “This is not easy music. This is complicated, ingenious music that is really hard to interpret.”
Before singing one of the esoteric songs, “The Jungle Line” from 1975’s “The Hissing of the Summer Lawns,” Beck said, “to prepare me for this event, I feel like I’ve been to Joni School. ”
John Legend gave a surprising performance, singing and playing solo piano on Mitchell’s “River” on a spinning stage in the middle of the room, while the audience of 2,400 was finishing their spinning dessert, an edible Grammy trophy on a turntable.
“Everyone was amazing, it just got better and better and better,” Mitchell said in a short thank you speech near the end of the concert. “I can retire now and just let others do it.”
But she showed that she is not quite done yet.
Carlile and Batiste brought most of the night’s artists back to the stage to sing “The Circle Game” and “Big Yellow Taxi.”
Mitchell eventually came to the microphone to join them and provided the famous baritone ending to the latter song.
“Set up a parking lot,” she sang to laughter and hoof from the crowd.
MusiCare’s Person of the Year is a career achievement award presented for a combination of inspiring artistic achievements and philanthropy. The gala that hands it out raises funds for the programs from MusiCares, the Recording Academy charity that provides health and welfare services to musicians in need.
Previous honorees include Quincy Jones, Stevie Wonder, Elton John, Bruce Springsteen, Aretha Franklin, Dolly Parton and Aerosmith.
Follow AP Entertainment Writer Andrew Dalton on Twitter: twitter.com/andyjamesdalton