Joni Mitchell wins Kennedy honor, in mixed company

Joni Mitchell wins Kennedy honor, in mixed company


norman lebrecht

July 21, 2021

The 44th Kennedy Center Honors for lifetime artistic achievements have just been announced.

They will go to operatic bass-baritone Justino Díaz, Motown founder Berry Gordy, Saturday Night Live creator Lorne Michaels, stage performer Bette Midler, and singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell.

An uncommonly mixed batch.


  • Tiredofitall says:

    I am so pleased to see Justino Diaz on this list. I remember hearing him several times in the 70s at my local (major, but local to me) opera company. What a glorious voice.

    I was at a party about ten years ago where Mr. Diaz was a guest. While we spoke, he said that no one in the room–mostly prominent singers–probably remembered him. I couldn’t believe that he could have thought that his achievements would have been so easily forgotten. I guess it speaks to a certain modesty. He seemed like a very kind (and slightly patrician) person.

    In any case, bravo!

  • Several on that list I am surprised have not already been honored.

  • BigSir says:

    Fanfare for the common men and women.

  • MacroV says:

    It’s always a mixed batch. And really an excellent group. The one I would take issue with is Justino Diaz; great singer, no doubt, but what has been his influence besides that?

    In any case, the Kennedy Center’s overlooking of the Smothers Brothers remains lamentable.

    • Tiredofitall says:

      There is no written set of guidelines (per the KC Honor’s creator, George Stevens, Jr.) for selection. The primary criteria is excellence. “Influence”, however praiseworthy, is not one of the criteria.

  • Le Křenek du jour says:

    Kennedy Center Honors for lifetime artistic achievements awarded to Joni Mitchell?

    The only adequate response is to paraphrase Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address:

    They can not dedicate — they can not consecrate — they can not hallow — honors to this immeasurable artist. Joni Mitchell herself has consecrated them, far above their poor power to add or detract.

  • edinalex says:

    It’s a very commonly mixed bunch. The Kennedy Center Honors always is.

  • drummerman says:

    Kennedy Center awards are given for “lifetime contributions to American culture.” No disrespect whatsoever to Mr. Diaz — a wonderful artists to be sure — but I don’t feel he meets that requirement. I’d say the same for Bette Midler, again a terrific pop singer but what has she contributed to American culture?

    I think the choices of Lorne Michael and Gordy Berry are brilliant.

    Perhaps the Kennedy Center might consider making the awards biennial so as not to be under as much pressure to choose people just for the sake of choosing them or because they make for a fun two-hour TV show.

    • Yes Addison says:

      I think Midler’s a pretty sound choice. Pop music is only a portion of what she’s done. She’s had a very long career in films and television and on the stage, she’s written books (beyond just the obligatory celebrity memoir), and she’s a fine comedienne. She’s probably being recognized for being an enduring “all-arounder.”

  • Rupert Christiansen says:

    Justino Diaz? Why?

  • MR says:

    One of my favorite Joni Mitchell songs, Michael From Mountains, was inspired by Michael Durbin, who was fronting a band named the Trauma when Joni met him in a Manhattan club where they were performing. Durbin was from the mountains of Colorado.

    There’s oil on the puddles in taffeta patterns
    That run down the drain
    In colored arrangements
    That Michael will change with a stick that he found

  • Westfan says:

    The great Joni Mitchell has a special place in my heart, the singer of my era. Many congrats to her and to all of them.

  • Margaret BOUDRA says:

    Joni is a genius. Why has this happened so late in her career? She is known worldwide and has influenced numerous artists world wide unlike some of the others.

    • BRUCEB says:

      As with so many others (e.g. Dick Van Dyke last year at age 125, after a huge career spanning at least a century). They probably looked at past lists and went “OMG, so-and-so’s name isn’t even on here! We need to fix that.”

  • Nicholas says:

    The gold standard is the first KCH: Artur Rubinstein, George Balanchine, Richard Rodgers, Fred Astaire, and Marian Anderson. Their achievements transcended their Art. It’s difficult to measure up to that first group of honorees.

  • Don Frank says:

    2 of 5 Canadian! Yea.

  • Don Frank says:

    2 of 5 Canadian. Yea.