OTD: Joni Mitchell receives Billboard’s Century Award

On today’s date in 1995, Canadian singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell received Billboard’s Century Award – its highest accolade – at the Billboard Music Awards Show in Los Angeles, Calif.

Mitchell was honoured for her “distinguished creative achievement,” said Timothy White, Billboard editor-in-chief from 1991 until his death at age 50 in 2002.

The Century Award is named for the publication’s 100th anniversary in 1994, and its aim is to “acknowledge the uncommon excellence of one artist’s still-unfolding body of work,” added White.

“For her 1971 BLUE album, 27-year-old Joni Mitchell wrote a song called A Case Of You, in which she sang, ‘I am a lonely painter/I live in a box of paints/I’m frightened by the devil, and I’m drawn to those ones that ain’t afraid.’

“In that song, as in all her music, this musician was willing to tell the plain truth about herself. And in the process, Joni Mitchell invented her own job. In fact, that’s the definition of a great performer: a person who invents his or her own job. Appropriately, the best adjective yet found for the body of work created over the last 30 years by our 1995 Century Award honouree remains her name: It sounds like Joni Mitchell.”


Designed by jeweller and sculptor Tina Marie Zippo-Evans, the Century Award is a unique work of art struck in bronze each year.

The hand-crafted, 355.6-centimetre-high statue is a composite representation of the Greco-Roman Muses of music and the arts (among them Calliope, epic poetry; Euterpe, music; Terpsichore, dance; Erato, love song; and Polyhymnia, sacred hymns). The form is female, in keeping with an ancient definition of the arts: “Sacred music is a symbol of nature in her transitory and ever-changing aspect.”

The lyre held by the muse is a unique adornment that changes annually to personalize the honour for each recipient. In homage to Mitchell, the 1995 lyre features silver adorned with topaz, which is Mitchell’s birthstone.


In June 2007, Canada Post issued a set of four domestic-rate stamps celebrating Mitchell (Scott #2221b) alongside fellow Canadian music icons Mitchell Gordon Lightfoot (SC #2221a); Anne Murray (SC #2221c) and Paul Anka (SC #2221d). The issue followed the previous summer’s popular Canadians in Hollywood issue.

“Creating these stamps is Canada Post’s way of giving something back to these very talented artists, who have given so much to Canadians,” said Liz Wong, manager of stamp design and production at Canada Post, adding the four stamps were only the second Canada Post issue to honour living Canadians, the first being Oscar Peterson in 2005.

“Trivia buffs may notice that living Canadians honoured on a postage stamp have something in common—they’ve all received the Order of Canada.”

The CD-shaped Canadian Recording Artists booklets (SC #BK351-54), available with eight stamps, also put a new spin on this type of collectible. In addition, a souvenir sheet of four stamps (SC #2221), official first-day cover and postcards were issued.

The series also featured Canadian music legends Joni Mitchell (SC #2221b), Anne Murray (SC #2221c) and Paul Anka (SC #2221d).

The series also featured Canadian music legends Joni Mitchell, Anne Murray and Paul Anka in CD-shaped booklets of eight stamps.

Robert L. Peters of Winnipeg’s Circle Design said his design team was very enthusiastic about working with “living legends” while they developed the Canadian Recording Artists issue. “We tried to portray the distinctive personality of each performer,” Peters explained, “and we wanted to depict them at a significant moment in their careers.”


Inspired by album covers, each stamp is square in format and features a photo of the artist along with distinctively styled fonts appropriate to the era. As some of the photos were taken over 30 years ago, obtaining suitable originals and approvals involved a significant amount of research.

To reflect the glamour and prestige of the recording artists, Peters incorporated the “MetalFX” process.

“The MetalFX process involves under-printing in metallic silver ink, then over-printing with other colours,” said Peters. “The result gives a lustrous sheen to the artists’ portraits and lends a ‘platinum album’ feel to the shiny, disc-shaped stamp booklets and souvenir sheet.”

The stamps went through various design refinements before reaching their final form.

“Like human gestation, designing a stamp is a simple but complex process,” he said. “It takes about nine months to do, and you can’t rush it.”

Printed by Lowe-Martin on Tullis Russell paper using nine-colour lithography, the stamps have general tagging along each side.

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