Joni Mitchell sparks controversy after resurfaced blackface photos emerge

Iconic singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell recently graced the stage at the 66th Grammy Awards over the weekend, captivating the audience with her performance of her legendary 1969 hit ‘Both Sides Now‘.

The moving rendition, drawn from her Grammy-winning Clouds album, stirred emotions within the celebrity audience and garnered praise from viewers watching from afar.

However, amidst the acclaim, Joni has come under fire on social media after images of her from five decades ago resurfaced… Keep reading to find out more.

Joni Mitchell at the Grammys
At 80 years old, Canadian-American artist Joni Mitchell performed at this year’s Grammy Awards for the first time – but she has previously managed to take home a whopping nine Grammys in her career.

Many of Mitchell’s fans were surprised to see her take the stage, especially following her health issues over the past decade.

A brain aneurysm in 2015 unfortunately left Mitchell temporarily unable to walk or talk, per the BBC. Prior to that, she hadn’t done a live performance for 13 years so, naturally, most of us had assumed she would never grace a stage again.

Though, in 2022 she made a surprise appearance at the Newport Folk Festival – and it was the recording from that performance that earned her the Grammy for Best Folk Album this year.

Younger generations watching the Grammys may not have been familiar with Mitchell beforehand, which meant that there were many people heading to Google to find out more about her.

Unbeknownst to Mitchell, however, several offensive photos from a costume she wore resurfaced… And people were not happy.

Joni Mitchell blackface
Joni, whose heritage includes Norwegian, Irish, French, and Scottish roots, integrated the persona of a Black man named Art Nouveau into various aspects of her work, including album covers and concert films.

In a 2015 interview with New York Magazine’s The Cut, Joni reflected on how she created her fictional character, saying it all came from an encounter on Hollywood Boulevard in 1976.

“I was being butchered by a dentist who was capping my teeth — and he was my dentist for about 12 years and one day he said, ‘Oh, you’ve got the worst bite I’ve ever seen. You have teeth like a Negro male,’” she said.

Mitchell then continued by explaining how, after leaving the dentist, she saw a Black man strutting in what she called “diddy-bopping”, before he allegedly turned to her and said: “Mmm, mmm, mmm, you looking good, sister, you looking good.”

She then continues by saying Halloween was just around the corner, so she promptly went to a costume store and bought an outfit after deciding: “I’m going to go as him.”


Recalling the experience, Joni detailed how she acquired a black wig, sideburns, and a mustache to emulate the man’s likeness. “It was as if this spirit went into me. So I started walking like him…I bought some pancake makeup. It was like ‘I’m goin’ as him,’” she recounted.

Additionally, in 2015, amidst her recovery from a brain aneurysm, Joni acknowledged having “experienced being a black guy on several occasions.”

The internet’s response
Naturally the images of Mitchell’s Black man persona, as well as her offensive commentary during The Cut interview, were not taken lightly by people on the internet.

Fans of color were taken aback at Mitchell’s failure to address or express remorse for her alter ego, Art Nouveau. One user on X (formerly Twitter) wrote: “I’m so sorry I cannot deal with Joni Mitchell. The way her blackface ‘alter ego’ named f***in don juan just flies with people is so crazy.”

Another person added: “Godd**n it! I can’t like any famous white folks. Always a d**n secret racist.”

Someone else highlighted how Mitchell should have been aware that her portrayal of Art was wrong, even during the 1970s, stating: “She says there were Black artists on the album who said it was ok…and I still don’t like it. I was alive in 76-77 and knew it was wrong then.”

What do you think of this? Let us know in the comments!