Joni Mitchell has received an honorary doctorate degree from Berklee College of Music. Berklee’s Office of the President and Institute of Jazz and Gender Justice presented Mitchell with the honor yesterday (August 23), at a private event in Santa Monica hosted by Linda and Russell Brown of MaddocksBrown Foundation. Mitchell accepted the accolade roughly one month after her triumphant return to performing at this year’s Newport Folk Festival.
“Well, luckily I’m too old to get a swelled head,” Mitchell said during her acceptance speech at the ceremony. “It’s a beautiful event. Words can’t describe it. I’ve got my good friends here with me.” She continued: “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 really impressive to her. I wish I could share it with her.”
Mitchell was introduced by Berklee President Erica Muhl, who referred to the iconic singer-songwriter as “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.”
Terri Lyne Carrington, founder and artistic director of the Berklee Institute of Jazz and Gender Justice, added: “I am thrilled that we are finally able to honor Joni Mitchell. Her career and social principles stand for the values our institute pursues—imagination, freedom, equity, and identity. I can think of no one more deserving.”
The ceremony also included musical tributes from Esperanza Spalding, Dianne Reeves, Säje, and others. Berklee students Devon Gates, Julian Miltenberger, Milena Casado, and Nika Ko performed a slate of Mitchell’s songs, including “A Case of You,” “Love,” “Both Sides Now,” “River,” and more. Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter were also in attendance at the event.
Last month, Mitchell made a surprise appearance at the Newport Folk Festival, where she played a full set and performed alongside Brandi Carlile, marking her first live performance since 2013. Mitchell discussed the set in a subsequent interview with CBS Mornings.