Joni Mitchell’s Gershwin Prize tribute
Everyone wanted to sing “Both Sides Now”
The Gershwin Prize was awarded to Joni Mitchell earlier this month in Washington DC, and the tribute aired on PBS.
The highlight of the night was Annie Lennox’s performance of “Both Sides Now”. It might have been a battle over who would get the chance to sing such a legendary song, but according to the show’s executive producer, Ken Ehrlich, “everybody wanted to do it”. Ultimately, Lennox won the right to perform the classic which she then delivered in a way that even Ehrlich had not envisaged.
Performing “Both Sides Now”
Lennox was acutely aware of the enormity of the task of performing someone else’s hit song, but also one that had been a lifelong favourite of hers. To make the song her own, she had to imbibe it over and over again. Joni Mitchell’s music requires a great deal of practice and deep scrutiny to deliver a performance worthy of its rich complexities.
The span of a lifetime makes a difference to the delivery of such classics, and performers with life experiences can add an extra dimension to the original songwriter’s intent with a song. The youthfulness of Joni Mitchell was evident, but now, decades after she wrote “Both Sides Now“, and with lots of life lived, the delivery of the song would have a different feel altogether.
Ad-libbing at the end
At the end of “Both Sides Now”, Lennox ad-libs the final line: “Do you know how I feel?”. It wasn’t planned, it just came out of her mouth spontaneously. She believes that if Joni had not existed, then her life, and the music in it, would have been vastly different. To Lennox, Joni is a great storyteller who has observational skills that give her work a depth that enables her to articulate both the external and the internal world.
The night of the Gershwin Prize event
Lennox felt no intimidation in the presence of Joni Mitchell on the night. Her encounter with the musical legend had always been warm and loving. Lennox was simply keen to give the best performance of her life for the woman who had inspired her so much.