Joni Mitchell’s “Little Green” and the Heartbreaking Decision That Inspired It

The intensely emotional story behind Joni Mitchell’s “Little Green,” much like the track itself, was hidden in plain sight for decades. Mitchell tucked the song neatly in the middle of the A-side of her deeply cathartic album ‘Blue’ (an album so excruciatingly personal, Mitchell would later say it embarrassed Kris Kristofferson, who told her, ‘God, Joan, save something of yourself’). 

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But in that summer of 1971, Mitchell wasn’t in the business of hiding anymore. At the height of her fame and with a long, promising road ahead, Mitchell used ‘Blue’ as a rearview mirror to revisit and reconcile with her past. In its reflection, the singer-songwriter saw a younger version of herself, pregnant and abandoned by her boyfriend in a dilapidated Toronto boarding house.

She had her child on February 19, 1965, and named her Kelly Dale Anderson, after the verdant shade of green. “Little Green” would be reborn into musical perpetuity six years later.

“Little Green” Paints A Devastating Picture of the Events of 1964

In the summer of 1964, Joni Mitchell had just dropped out of the Alberta College of Art and was living with her then-boyfriend, Brad MacMath. After Mitchell became pregnant, MacMath left. He went to California, she sings in the second verse of “Little Green.” Hearing that everything’s warmer there. So, you write him a letter and say, ‘Her eyes are blue.’ Little Green, he’s a non-conformer. 

The “Big Yellow Taxi” singer tried to raise her daughter at first. At a time when it was taboo to be a single, unwed mother, the musician entered a marriage of social convenience with fellow folk singer Chuck Mitchell. Both attempts at a stereotypically “normal” family life fell short. Joni placed Kelly up for adoption six months after she was born, and she and Chuck divorced shortly thereafter. 

Joni kept her child a secret from her parents, who were still living in Saskatchewan. She sings of her younger self in the third verse: Child with a child pretending, weary of lies you are sending home. So, you sign all the papers in the family name. [Mitchell’s family name was Anderson.] You’re sad and sorry, but you’re not ashamed. Little Green, have a happy ending.

Joni Mitchell Explained Her Reasoning For Naming Her Daughter Kelly

For all of the heartbreak imbued into Joni Mitchell’s writing, “Little Green” was melancholically hopeful. Mitchell placed her daughter for adoption in the hopes that she would enjoy a better, safer, and more stable life than the struggling artist could provide at the time. The vivid shade of Kelly green, after which Mitchell named her daughter, personified this deeply rooted optimism. 

Call her Green, and the winters cannot fade her, she sings in the first verse. Call her Green for the children who’ve made her. In the song’s chorus, Mitchell compares the shade of green to the color when the spring is born and like the nights when the Northern lights perform. She even muses on what her daughter’s future late-winter birthdays would look like. There’ll be icicles and birthday clothes, Mitchell sings. And sometimes, there’ll be sorrow.

The Singer-Songwriter Eventually Reunited With Her “Little Green”

Two decades after Joni Mitchell first released “Little Green,” her story took another complex turn. Mitchell began her search for her long-lost daughter in the 1990s, around the same time that Kelly Dale Anderson—renamed Kilauren Gibb by her adoptive parents, David and Ida Gibb—began her own journey to find her birth mother. Kilauren eventually learned about Mitchell’s search through the internet and called Mitchell’s agent, Sam Feldman.

Kilauren provided Mitchell’s team with her birth information and infant photographs. They were a match. The “Little Green” writer had finally reunited with her baby, Born with the moon in Cancer, after 32 years. Kilauren told the Toronto Sun in 1997 that her reunion with Mitchell was gratifyingly comfortable. “I immediately got the feeling that I was home,” Kilauren said of sitting with Mitchell in her kitchen. “We belonged together.”

Mitchell later said of the reunion, “I’ve had pain and joy in my life, but nothing like this. It’s an unparalleled emotional feeling” (via

Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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