LAS VEGAS – A few years ago, Johnny Mitchell could neither walk nor talk because of a brain aneurysm that damaged her motor skills.
On Friday night, 78-year-old Mitchell with shining blue eyes leaned over Brandi Carlisle’s golden microphone and joyfully sang “The Big Yellow Taxi.” Surrounded by Carlisle, John Batiste, Yola, Lauren Dagle and several other performers who celebrated the famous Canadian singer as MusiCares Man of the Year, Mitchell basked to the music with a slight smile, her ubiquitous physiotherapist – who also joined singalong – next to her.
Mitchell’s participation in her 1970 hit, which weaves environmentalism and politics into hot guitar sounds, was a festive moment at the event ahead of the Grammy Awards at the MGM Grand, which was felt by an audience that shrunk as the show lasted more than three hours.
But those who remained were rewarded with this piece of musical magic, as well as the fact that Mitchell shared a few lines of “The Circle Game”.
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MusiCares is the foundation of the Academy of Recording Arts, which awards the Grammy Award and provides assistance to the health and human services community. Videos of the musicians using MusiCares, including some who took advantage of the $ 37 million donated to help with COVID-19, were played all night, underscoring the importance of its coverage.
The annual pandemic-related virtual event in 2021 was curated this year by music directors Carlisle and Batiste.
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On the red carpet before the show, Carlisle, who also sang to her idol at the Kennedy Center in December, told USA TODAY that her “number one priority” was Mitchell.
“What could make her proud? What would make her laugh? I wanted to help her understand how relevant she is for generations. Everyone wants to sing in front of Johnny, and no one wants to sing in front of Johnny,” Carlisle said with an experienced smile.
With an eclectic lineup that included Angelique Kijo (“When”); St. Vincent (“Court and Spark”); Dave Grohl’s 15-year-old daughter Violet (“Help Me”); Chloe Bailey (“Chelsea Morning”); and Pentatonix (a combination of “Why Do Fools Fall in Love” and Mitchell’s “Raised on Robbery”), Carlisle and Batiste managed to demonstrate Mitchell’s broad aural coverage.
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On video screens hanging around the ballroom, there were video messages from names who have long ties to Mitchell – Elton John, Lionel Richie, Meryl Streep, Neil Young. Mitchell’s former love and muse, Graham Nash, also emerged virtually from a tour stop in Nashville and presented “Joan,” as he called her, a tender version of “A Case of You”.
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Before the show, Mitchell spoke with USA TODAY about some of the unusual months she spent with the Kennedy Center Award and the MusiCares Award.
“I wonder what’s going on – and that it took 50 years to achieve that,” Mitchell said.
So what does she associate this sudden interest in her career with?
“Maybe people are getting deeper.”
Here are some musical highlights of the event.
John Legends, River: The R&B singer-pianist does not always light up the room with his presence, but his deeply sensitive version of “River”, performed on a rotating platform in the middle of the hall, is imbued with real emotions. His deep and resonant voice Legend contrasted with his trusty vocals the delicate sounds of “Jingle Bells” that intertwine with a melancholy song.
Cindy Loper, “Magdalene’s Laundry”: Taken from Mitchell’s 1994 album “Turbulent Indigo,” the song, according to Loper, is relevant today as women are still fighting for equal rights. Dressed in a white hooded jacket with matching sunglasses and pink matte lipstick, Lawper, her voice surprisingly low, both girded with a belt and muted. She sang with her eyes closed, ignoring the giant TelePrompTer at the back of the room, and kissed Mitchell at the end of the song. “You left footprints in the sand for me to walk,” Lawper said.
Billy Porter, “Both Sides Now”: The elegant Porter took a minute before delving into one of Mitchell’s favorite songs to tell her, “We’re all the best artists thanks to the traits you dared to transgress.” His eyes outlined in a dark glow, Porter then engaged in a master class on song interpretation. He singled out sadness and wary hope from the ballad with emphasized wording and emotional insight, and his performance of the final line was absolutely devastating. Porter’s performance, around the middle of the show, earned the first applause of the evening. Some of us would still stand.
Carlisle and Stephen Steele: On the red carpet, Steele told USA TODAY that he was “proud” of Mitchell for her resilience. “She was brave. We were very worried about her (after the aneurysm in 2015), and now here she is, and God bless her. ” There were no vocalizations from Steels on stage, only an electrified entrance in the middle of a slower version of Carlisle’s “Woodstock”. Possessing his guitar, Steele came out crying over the instrument, and Carlisle grabbed the guitar to join him. Watching Carlisle is always nice, and the moment she instinctively leaned her head on Steele’s shoulder as they played was unbridled happiness.
Mickey Gaiton and Alison Russell, “Free”: It was another highlight for Deer Gaitan, who impressed with his Super Cup anthem in February. The song, an album track from Mitchell’s third album, “Ladies of the Canyon” of the 1970s, proved to be the perfect combination for the couple’s compatible vocals. A little soul and a hint of country from a pedal steel guitar combined for rich melodic beauty.