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The Library of Congress will honor Joni Mitchell with the Gershwin Prize

(SOUNDBITE OF JONI MITCHELL SONG, "CHELSEA MORNING")

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Tonight, the Library of Congress honors one of the most influential singer-songwriters of the late 20th century.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CHELSEA MORNING")

JONI MITCHELL: (Singing) Woke up, it was a Chelsea morning, and the first thing that I heard was a song outside my window, and the traffic wrote the words.

FADEL: Joni Mitchell receives the Gershwin Prize for popular song, the nation's highest award for influence, impact and achievement in popular song. She's 79 and only the third woman to win the award. A few years back, she told NPR's Renee Montagne that she considers herself a painter who writes songs.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

MITCHELL: I started singing folk songs in 1964 and '5 for smoking money, really.

RENEE MONTAGNE: And you call that a helium voice in your famous voice.

MITCHELL: 'Cause it's not - right. It was like I sucked on a balloon or something. It was very high, and so was my speaking voice.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BOTH SIDES NOW")

MITCHELL: (Singing) I've looked at love from both sides now, from give and take...

MONTAGNE: How did you write that at 21? It seemed almost, like, prescient.

MITCHELL: Oh, I'd gone through some bad stuff already - you know, the loss of my daughter, you know? Saw a solution (ph)...

MONTAGNE: Your daughter who you gave up.

MITCHELL: I had to give her up for adoption. But...

MONTAGNE: You were an unwed mother in a time when that really...

MITCHELL: Right - was really rough going. And there was so much prejudice. So, yeah, I'd seen some bad human nature.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CHINESE CAFE/UNCHAINED MELODY")

MITCHELL: Now your kids are coming up straight, and my child's a stranger. I bore her.

MONTAGNE: You told a newspaper in Toronto, I sing my sorrow and paint my joy.

MITCHELL: Because I'm going to hang, in my house, the paintings of my grandson, landscapes that I love, people that I love or loved. But I don't really want to paint sorrowful stuff. I've been through so much, and I've come through it kind of, oddly enough, kind of in a good mood. I can't explain it. (Laughter) I don't know. I'm a tough, old cookie.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BOTH SIDES NOW")

MITCHELL: (Singing) I've looked at life from both sides now.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Joni Mitchell will be honored with a tribute concert tonight as she receives the Gershwin Prize for popular song. And if you're a longtime listener, you knew that other great voice. She was speaking with our own Renee Montagne in 2014.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BOTH SIDES NOW")

MITCHELL: (Singing) I really don't know life at all. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.