Don't worry, she didn't have to take out any student loans.
Joni Mitchell is undoubtedly one of the foremothers of women in contemporary music. In the ‘60s, she blazed a trail alongside male heavyweights who defined a generation like Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix, and held her own the whole way. Iconic songs like “River” and “Big Yellow Taxi” hold steadfast as moving, permanent entries into the American songbook, the impact of which can’t be denied. So it’s only natural that one of music’s most respected institutions give her her due flowers. And that’s exactly what happened this week, when Mitchell received an honorary doctorate from Berklee College of Music in a ceremony held at a private residence in Santa Monica, California.
“Since her debut in the late 1960s, Joni has been a force for change in the industry, blazing the trail for women in music with an unwavering commitment to achieving the status rightfully due her as one of the world’s great musical artists,” Berklee President Erica Muhl said at the event. Muhl added that the occasion was also a chance to “highlight Joni’s important work as an activist and champion for women in music,” introducing a collaboration between Mitchell and the Berklee Institute of Jazz and Gender Justice, a part of the school that Muhl remarked has done “pioneering work in this same area.”
Mitchell, 78, gave a charming speech that reflected on the roots of her musical identity. She remembered one particularly shrewd childhood piano teacher who asked her, “‘Why would you want to play by ear when you can have the masters under your fingertips!’ And she whacked me across the knuckles with her ruler. So I said to her, ‘But the masters had to play by ear to come up with that stuff.’ And she whacked me again. I wonder if she saw any of this [tonight]. It’s my moment of revenge.”
Mitchell also got sentimental while speaking of her mother. “I wish my parents were alive. My mother in particular would be really proud of this because she wanted me to go to college. I went to art school and I quit after a year. She thinks of me as a quitter. So to see this achievement would be very impressive to her. I wish I could share it with her.” The night included many fellow musicians paying tribute to Mitchell including Annie Lennox, who stated, “I’d never have thought about becoming a singer-songwriter if I’d never heard Court and Spark and all the beautiful, beautiful pieces of work that you have created over your lifetime.” Dianne Reeves performed “River” and “Both Sides Now,” and Esperanza Spalding played “The Wolf That Lives in Lindsey,” and “Love.” The honor comes after Mitchell surprised audiences and returned to Newport Folk Festival earlier this summer for her first full performance in over two decades.