TORONTO -- Joni Mitchell marked her first-ever performance at the Grammy Awards on Sunday following years of health setbacks, while Celine Dion emerged as a surprise presenter in the final minutes of the show, herself making a rare appearance since announcing her own health troubles.

The two Canadian music legends were among the brightest moments on a night which saw several other homegrown talents secure their own Grammy milestones.

Montreal folk singer-songwriter Allison Russell landed her first Grammy win while Romania-born, Canada-raised pop wizard Serban Ghenea clocked his 20th.

But it was Mitchell's rendition of her classic “Both Sides Now,” surrounded by a close-knit group of friends in a scene that evoked her living room “Joni Jam” sessions, that seemed like a particularly special once-in-a-lifetime moment.

Sitting on a gold-trimmed wingback chair, the 80-year-old Canadian singer-songwriter was like a matriarch to the artists gathered in the semi-circle around her, including fellow Canadian Grammy winner Russell on clarinet. Many in the star-studded audience seemed transfixed by her presence.

Such a performance seemed unimaginable even a few years ago when a 2015 brain aneurysm sidelined Mitchell's career and threatened her life. Brandi Carlile said in her introduction that Mitchell had overcome incredible hurdles in her life, and in recent years that included learning to speak and walk again.

“We all know she's timeless,” Carlile said.

“We're so lucky that history remembers any of us. One thing I know for sure is that it will remember that we lived in the time of Joni Mitchell.”

Earlier in the day, Mitchell had claimed her 10th career Grammy, winning best folk album for “Joni Mitchell Live at Newport,” a recording which captured her return to performing in July 2022.

66th Annual Grammy Awards - Show

Many had wondered if Dion might be planning her own Grammys surprise after a video posted on social media appeared to show the “My Heart Will Go On” singer sneaking into the venue.

That didn't soften the shock of her walking onto the stage for one of her few public appearances since revealing a little more than a year ago she had been diagnosed with stiff person syndrome. The health issues caused her to cancel all of her tour dates.

Dion earned a standing ovation from the audience before she opened the album of the year envelope to reveal Taylor Swift's “Midnights” as the winner.

Ahead of the main broadcast, smaller hurdles were overcome by at least one of the Canadian winners.

A torrential downpour on the streets of Los Angeles forced Russell to collect her Grammy award barefoot at an industry ceremony.

Russell won best American roots performance for her song “Eve Was Black.”

Shortly before she was announced as the winner, she was still in rehearsals for the “Both Sides Now” performance. That meant she had to race across the street in the rain to another venue to receive her honour.

“We were running through a hallway with (me in) flip flops,” Russell said in a phone interview shortly after her win.

“I never even made it to getting my fancy shoes on.”

Russell settled for kicking off her flip flips and accepting her Grammy “slightly dishevelled,” she said. She thanked Carlile, a longtime supporter of hers, for kicking open the doors of folk and Americana music to an array of new and diverse artists.

“I love our community,” said Russell, who had amassed eight Grammy nominations over the past three Grammys ceremonies.

“All Americana, all of us - all colours, all ages, all abilities, all orientations, all genders. It's for everybody and I love y'all.”

Allison Russell

Soon afterwards, Mitchell secured a historic moment of her own in the pre-broadcast ceremony, taking home her 10th golden gramophone.

Walking slowly with a cane as she was escorted to the microphone, Mitchell took the stage as the audience rose to its feet.

“I don't know what to say about this,” Mitchell said smiling, draped in a flowy, dark ensemble with her long blond hair in two braids.

“We had so much fun at that concert. And I think you can feel it on the record. You know, it's a very joyous record because of the people that I played with and the spirit of the occasion was very high.”

Meanwhile, conductor Yannick Nezet-Seguin landed his fourth career Grammy by winning best opera recording for “Blanchard: Champion,” made with producer David Frost. “Champion” is a recording of the Metropolitan Opera's performance of Terence Blanchard's first opera, which tells the story of a closeted gay boxer.

Nezet-Seguin thanked Blanchard, a composer and trumpeter, calling him one of the voices of our time.

Yannick Nezet-Seguin

Among numerous Canadians who emerged empty-handed this year was Drake who lost all four categories he was nominated in. The Toronto rapper posted on his Instagram after he had lost to tell his fans the show was “just the opinion of a group of people whose names are kept secret.”

“Congrats to anybody winning anything for hip hop, but this show doesn't dictate (anything) in our world,” he wrote using an expletive.

Ahead of the Grammys, Somali-Canadian musician K'naan received the best song for social change award for his 2023 single “Refugee.” The musician received the honour at a Special Merit Awards event held on Saturday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 4, 2024.