Linda Ronstadt

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Linda Ronstadt
LindaRonstadtPerforming.jpg
Ronstadt performing in New Haven, Connecticut at a WPLR show, New Haven Veterans Memorial Coliseum, August 16, 1978 [1][2]
Background information
Birth name Linda Maria Ronstadt[3]
Born (1946-07-15) July 15, 1946 (age 68)
Origin Tucson, Arizona, United States
Genres Rock, rock and roll, folk, country rock, soft rock,[4] jazz, big band, art rock
Occupations Singer, songwriter, musician, record producer, actress
Instruments Vocals, guitar, percussion
Years active 1967–2011
Labels Capitol, Asylum, Verve
Associated acts Stone Poneys, Neil Young, Swampwater, Free Creek, Eagles, Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, The Muppets, Aaron Neville, Rubén Fuentes, Mariachi V. de Tecalitlán, Nelson Riddle, Ann Savoy, Jackson Browne, Warren Zevon, Michael Nesmith, Waddy Wachtel

Linda Maria Ronstadt (born July 15, 1946) is an American popular music singer. She has earned 11 Grammy Awards, two Academy of Country Music awards, an Emmy Award, an ALMA Award, and numerous United States and internationally certified gold, platinum and multiplatinum albums. She has also earned nominations for a Tony Award and a Golden Globe award.

Ronstadt has collaborated with artists from a diverse spectrum of genres including Bette Midler, Billy Eckstine,[5] Frank Zappa, Rosemary Clooney, Flaco Jiménez, Philip Glass, Carla Bley, The Chieftains, Warren Zevon, Emmylou Harris, Gram Parsons, Dolly Parton, Neil Young, Johnny Cash, and Nelson Riddle. She has lent her voice to over 120 albums and has sold more than 100 million records, making her one of the world's best-selling artists of all time.[6][7] Christopher Loudon of Jazz Times noted in 2004, Ronstadt is "Blessed with arguably the most sterling set of pipes of her generation ... rarest of rarities – a chameleon who can blend into any background yet remain boldly distinctive ... It's an exceptional gift; one shared by few others."[8]

In total, she has released over 30 studio albums and 15 compilation or greatest hits albums. Ronstadt charted 38 Billboard Hot 100 singles, with 21 reaching the top 40, 10 in the top 10, three at #2, and "You're No Good" at #1. This success did not translate to the UK, with only her single "Blue Bayou" reaching the UK Top 40.[9] Her duet with Aaron Neville, "Don't Know Much", peaked at #2 in December 1989.[10] In addition, she has charted 36 albums, 10 top-10 albums and three #1 albums on the Billboard Pop Album Chart.

In a 2011 interview with the Arizona Daily Star she said, "I am 100 percent retired and I'm not doing anything any more". It was announced publicly in August 2013 that Linda had been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in December 2012, which left her unable to sing.[11]

Her autobiography, Simple Dreams: A Musical Memoir,[12] was released in September 2013. It debuted in the Top 10 on The New York Times Best Sellers List.

Linda Ronstadt was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in April, 2014.[13]

On Monday, July 28, 2014, President Obama awarded Linda Ronstadt one of twelve 2013 National Medals of Arts and Humanities. He also stated that he had had a crush on her when he was younger.[14]

Early life[edit]

Linda Ronstadt was born in Tucson, Arizona, in 1946 to Gilbert Ronstadt (1911–1995), a prosperous machinery merchant who ran the F. Ronstadt Co.,[15] and Ruth Mary (Copeman) Ronstadt (1914–1982), a homemaker.[16]

Ronstadt was raised on the family's 10-acre (4.0 ha) ranch with siblings Peter (who served as Tucson's Chief of Police for ten years, 1981–1991), Michael J., and Gretchen (Suzy). The family was featured in Family Circle magazine in 1953.[17]

Linda's father Gilbert came from a pioneering Arizona ranching family[18] and was of German, English, and Mexican ancestry.[19] The family's influence and contributions to Arizona's history, including wagon making, commerce, pharmacies, and music, are chronicled in the library of the University of Arizona.[20] Linda Ronstadt's great-grandfather, graduate engineer Friedrich August Ronstadt (who went by the name Federico Augusto Ronstadt) immigrated to the West (then a part of Mexico) in the 1840s from Hanover, Germany, and married a Mexican citizen, and eventually settled in Tucson.[21][22] In 1991, the City of Tucson opened its central transit terminal on March 16 and dedicated it to Linda's grandfather, local pioneer businessman Federico José María Ronstadt. Ronstadt was a wagon maker whose early contribution to the city's mobility included six mule-drawn streetcars delivered in 1903–04.[23]

Her mother Ruth Mary, of German, English, and Dutch descent, was raised in the Flint, Michigan, area. She was the daughter of Lloyd Groff Copeman, a prolific inventor and holder of many patents. Lloyd, with nearly 700 patents to his name, invented an early form of the toaster, many refrigerator devices, the grease gun, the first electric stove, and an early form of the microwave oven. His flexible rubber ice cube tray earned him millions of dollars in royalties.[24]

Career summary[edit]

"Everybody has their own level of doing their music. ... Mine just happened to resonate over the years, in one way and another, with a significant enough number of people so that I could do it professionally."

—Linda Ronstadt[25]

Establishing her professional career in the mid-1960s at the forefront of California's emerging folk rock and country rock movements – genres which later defined post-1960s rock music – Ronstadt joined forces with Bobby Kimmel and Kenny Edwards and became the lead singer of a folk-rock trio, The Stone Poneys. Later, as a solo artist, she released Hand Sown ... Home Grown in 1969, which has been described as the first alternative country record by a female recording artist.[26] Although fame eluded her during these years, Ronstadt actively toured with The Doors, Neil Young, Jackson Browne, and others, made numerous television show appearances, and began to contribute her voice to a variety of albums.

However, with the release of chart-topping albums such as Heart Like a Wheel, Simple Dreams, and Living in the USA, coupled with the fact that Ronstadt became the first female "arena class" rock star, she set records as one of the top-grossing concert artists of the decade.[27][28][29] Referred to as "First Lady of Rock"[18][30] and the "Queen of Rock", Ronstadt was voted the Top Female Pop Singer of the 1970s.[18] Her rock-and-roll image was equally as famous as her music, appearing six times on the cover of Rolling Stone, as well as Newsweek and Time covers.

In the 1980s, Ronstadt went to Broadway and garnered a Tony nomination for her performance in The Pirates of Penzance,[31] teamed with composer Philip Glass, recorded traditional music, and collaborated with conductor Nelson Riddle, an event at that time viewed as an original and unorthodox move for a rock-and-roll artist. This venture paid off,[32] and Ronstadt remained one of the music industry's best-selling acts throughout the 1980s with multi-platinum-selling albums such as What's New, Canciones de Mi Padre, and Cry Like a Rainstorm, Howl Like the Wind. Ronstadt continued to tour, collaborate, and record celebrated albums, such as Winter Light and Hummin' to Myself, until her retirement in 2011.[33] Most of Ronstadt's albums are certified gold, platinum, or multi-platinum.[34][35] Having sold in excess of 100 million records worldwide[36] and setting records as one of the top-grossing concert performers for over a decade, Ronstadt was the most successful female singer of the 1970s and stands as one of the most successful female recording artists in U.S. history. A consummate American artist, Ronstadt opened many doors for women in rock and roll and other musical genres by championing songwriters and musicians, pioneering her chart success onto the concert circuit, and being at the vanguard of many musical movements.[26]

Career overview[edit]

Early influences[edit]

"I don't record (any type of genre of music) that I didn't hear in my family's living room by the time I was 10. It just is my rule that I don't break because ... I can't do it authentically ... I really think that you're just hard-wiring (synapses) in your brain up until the age of maybe 12 or 10, and there are certain things you can't learn in an authentic way after that."

—Linda Ronstadt[37]

Ronstadt's early family life was filled with music and tradition, which influenced the stylistic and musical choices she later made in her career. Growing up, she listened to many types of music, including Mexican music, which was sung by her entire family and was a staple in her childhood.[38]

Ronstadt has remarked that everything she has recorded on her own records – rock 'n' roll, jazz, rhythm and blues, gospel, opera, country, choral, and mariachi – is all music she heard her family sing in their living room, or heard played on the radio, by the age of 10. She credits her mother for her appreciation of Gilbert and Sullivan and her father for introducing her to the traditional pop and Great American Songbook repertoire that she would, in turn, help reintroduce to an entire generation.[37][39]

Early on, her singing style had been influenced by singers such as Lola Beltrán and Édith Piaf; she has called their singing and rhythms "more like Greek music ... It's sort of like 6/8 time signature ... very hard driving and very intense."[40] She also drew influence from country singer Hank Williams.

She has said that "all girl singers" eventually "have to curtsy to Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday".[18] Of Maria Callas, Ronstadt says, "There's no one in her league. That's it. Period.[41] I learn more ... about singing rock n roll from listening to Maria Callas records than I ever would from listening to pop music for a month of Sundays. ... She's the greatest chick singer ever."[41] She admires Callas for her musicianship and her attempts to push 20th-century singing, particularly opera, back into the bel canto "natural style of singing".[42]

A self-described product of American radio of the 1950s and 1960s, Ronstadt is a fan of its eclectic and diverse music programming.[39]

Beginning of professional career[edit]

At age 14, Ronstadt formed a folk trio with her brother Peter and sister Suzy. The group played coffeehouses, fraternity houses, and other small venues, billing themselves as "The Union City Ramblers" and "The Three Ronstadts", and they even recorded themselves at a Tucson studio under the name "The New Union Ramblers".[43] Their repertoire included the music they grew up on – folk, country, bluegrass, and Mexican.[44] But increasingly, Ronstadt wanted to make a union of folk music and rock 'n' roll,[29] and in 1964, after a semester at college (sources differ between Tucson's University of Arizona[45] and Arizona State University[44]), the 18-year old decided to move to Los Angeles.[46][47][48]

The Stone Poneys[edit]

Main article: Stone Poneys

Ronstadt visited a friend from Tucson, Bobby Kimmel, in Los Angeles during Easter break from college in 1964, and later that year, shortly before her eighteenth birthday,[46] decided to move there permanently to form a band with him.[47] Kimmel had already begun co-writing folk-rock songs with guitarist-songwriter Kenny Edwards, and eventually the three of them were signed by Nik Venet to Capitol in the summer of 1966 as "The Stone Poneys". The trio released three albums in a 15-month period in 1967–68: The Stone Poneys; Evergreen, Volume 2; and Linda Ronstadt, Stone Poneys and Friends, Vol. III. The band is best known for their hit single "Different Drum" (written by Michael Nesmith prior to his joining the Monkees), which reached #13 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart as well as #12 in Cashbox magazine. More than 45 years later, the song remains one of Ronstadt's most popular recordings.[49]

Besides recording one of her most enduring songs, Ronstadt was already showcasing her highly expressive performance of an eclectic mix of songs, often from under-appreciated songwriters, utilizing a wide array of backing musicians. Additionally, many of her songs, including "Different Drum", were written by male songwriters and had minimal lyric changes, allowing Ronstadt to toy with gender roles that were in ferment in the 1960s and 1970s. While the Stone Poneys broke up before the release of their third album, Kenny Edwards recorded and toured with Ronstadt from the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s.

In 2008 Australia's Raven Records released a compilation CD titled The Stone Poneys. The disc features all tracks from the first two Stone Poneys albums and four tracks from the third album.

Solo career[edit]

Still contractually obligated to Capitol Records, Ronstadt released her first solo album, Hand Sown ... Home Grown, in 1969. It has been called the first alternative country record by a female recording artist.[26] During this same period, she contributed to the Music From Free Creek "super session" project.

Ronstadt provided the vocals for some commercials during this period, including one for Remington electric razors, in which a multitracked Ronstadt and Frank Zappa claimed that the electric razor "cleans you, thrills you ... may even keep you from getting busted".[50]

Ronstadt's second solo album, Silk Purse, was released in March 1970. Recorded entirely in Nashville, it was produced by Elliot Mazer, whom Ronstadt chose on the advice of Janis Joplin, who had worked with him on her Cheap Thrills album.[51] The Silk Purse album cover showed Ronstadt in a muddy pigpen, while the back and inside cover depicted her onstage wearing bright red. Ronstadt has stated that she was not pleased with the album, although it provided her with her first solo hit, the multi-format single "Long Long Time", and earned her first Grammy nomination (for Best Contemporary Vocal Performance/Female).

Touring[edit]

"Judy Henske, who was the then reigning queen of folk music, said to me at The Troubadour, 'Honey, in this town there are four sexes. Men, women, homosexuals, and girl singers.'"

—Linda Ronstadt [52]

In a 1976 Rolling Stone interview with Cameron Crowe, Ronstadt explained that "they haven't invented a word for that loneliness that everybody goes through on the road. The world is tearing by you, real fast, and all these people are looking at you. ... People see me in my 'girl-singer' suit."[53] In 1974 she told Peter Knobler in Crawdaddy, "People are always taking advantage of you; everybody that's interested in you has got an angle."[54]

Several years before Ronstadt became what author Gerri Hirshey called the first "arena-class rock diva", with "hugely anticipated tours",[27] she began her solo career touring the North American concert circuit. But being on the road took its toll both emotionally and professionally. There were few "girl singers" on the rock circuit at the time, and they were relegated to "groupie level when in a crowd of a bunch of rock and roll guys", a status Ronstadt avoided.[55] Relating to men on a professional level as fellow musicians led to competition, insecurity, bad romances, and a series of boyfriend-managers. At the time, she admired singers like Maria Muldaur for not sacrificing their femininity, but says she felt enormous self-imposed pressure to compete with "the boys" at every level.[47] She noted in a 1969 interview in Fusion magazine that it was difficult being a single "chick singer" with an all-male backup band.[55] According to her, it was difficult to get a band of backing musicians because of their ego problem of being labeled sidemen for a female singer.[56]

Soon after she went solo in the late 1960s, one of her first backing bands was the pioneering country-rock band Swampwater, famous for synthesizing Cajun and swamp-rock elements into their music. Its members included Cajun fiddler Gib Guilbeau and John Beland, who later joined The Flying Burrito Brothers,[57] as well as Stan Pratt, Thad Maxwell, and Eric White, brother of Clarence White of The Byrds. Swampwater went on to back Ronstadt during TV appearances on The Johnny Cash Show[58] and The Mike Douglas Show, and at the Big Sur Folk Festival.[59]

Another backing band featured players Don Henley, Glenn Frey, Bernie Leadon, and Randy Meisner, who went on to form the Eagles. They toured with her for a short period in 1971 and played on Linda Ronstadt, her self-titled third album, from which the failed single, Ronstadt's version of Browne's "Rock Me On the Water", was drawn. At this stage, Ronstadt began working with producer and boyfriend John Boylan. She said, "As soon as I started working with John Boylan, I started co-producing myself. I was always a part of my productions. But I always needed a producer who would carry out my whims."[43] Also in 1971, Ronstadt began talking with David Geffen about moving from Capitol Records to Geffen's Asylum Records label.[60]

Collaborations with Peter Asher[edit]

"In general when you fall in love with an artist and their music, the plan is a fairly simple one. .. get people to go and see them, and make a record that you think properly presents their music to the public and some of which you can get on the radio."

Peter Asher, on collaborating with Ronstadt[25]

Ronstadt began her fourth solo album, Don't Cry Now, in 1973, with Boylan (who had negotiated her contract with Asylum Records) and John David "J.D." Souther producing most of the album's tracks. But needing someone willing to work with her as an equal, Ronstadt asked Peter Asher, who came highly recommended to her by James Taylor's sister Kate Taylor, to help produce two of them: "Sail Away" and "I Believe in You".[61]

The album featured Ronstadt's first country hit, "Silver Threads and Golden Needles", which she had first recorded on Hand Sown ... Home Grown – this time hitting the Country Top 20.

With the release of Don't Cry Now, Ronstadt took on her biggest gig to date as the opening act on Neil Young's Time Fades Away tour, playing for larger crowds than ever before. Backstage at a concert in Texas, Chris Hillman introduced her to Emmylou Harris, telling them, "You two could be good friends",[62] which soon occurred, resulting in frequent collaborations over the following years. Meanwhile, the album became Ronstadt's most successful up to that time, selling 300,000 copies by the end of 1974.[61]

Asher turned out to be more collaborative, and more on the same page with her musically, than any producer she had worked with previously.[43] Ronstadt's professional relationship with Asher allowed her to take command and effectively delegate responsibilities in the recording studio.[61] Although hesitant at first to work with her because of her reputation for being a "woman of strong opinions (who) knew what she wanted to do (with her career)", he nonetheless agreed to become her full-time producer,[63] and remained in that role through the late 1980s. Asher attributed the long-term success of his working relationship with Ronstadt to the fact that he was the first person to manage and produce her with whom there was a solely professional relationship. "It must be a lot harder to have objective conversations about someone's career when it's someone you sleep with", he said.[61]

Asher executive produced a tribute CD called Listen to Me: Buddy Holly, released September 6, 2011, on which Ronstadt's 1976 version of Buddy Holly's "That'll Be The Day" appears among newly recorded versions of Holly's songs by various artists.[64]

Vocal styles[edit]

"I grew up singing Mexican music, and that's based on indigenous Mexican rhythms. Mexican music also has an overlay of West African music, based on huapango drums, and it's kind of like a 6/8 time signature, but it really is a very syncopated 6/8. And that's how I attack vocals."

—Linda Ronstadt, on reconciling her musical instincts with rock 'n' roll.[43]

Ronstadt captured the sounds of country music and the rhythms of ranchera music – which she likened in 1968 to "Mexican bluegrass" – and redirected them into her rock 'n' roll and some of her pop music. Many of these rhythms and sounds were part of her Southwestern roots.[47] Likewise, a country sound and style, a fusion of country music and rock 'n' roll called Country rock, started to exert its influence on mainstream pop music around the late 1960s, and it became an emerging movement Ronstadt helped form and commercialize. However, as early as 1970, Ronstadt was being criticized by music "purists" for her "brand of music" which crossed many genres. Country Western Stars magazine wrote in 1970 that "Rock people thought she was too gentle, folk people thought she was too pop, and pop people didn't quite understand where she was at, but Country people really loved Linda." She never categorized herself and stuck to her genre-crossing brand of music.[65]

Interpretive singer[edit]

Ronstadt is considered an "interpreter of her times",[66] and has earned praise for her courage to put her own unique "stamp" on many of her songs.[67] Although many of her hits were criticized for being cover songs, they were the songs the record companies elected to cull and release off the albums. More importantly, Ronstadt became a highly successful "album artist", with much material she had written.[43]

Ronstadt's natural vocal range spans several octaves from contralto to soprano, and occasionally she will showcase this entire range within a single work. Ronstadt was the first female artist in popular music history to accumulate four consecutive platinum albums (fourteen certified million selling, to date). As for the singles, Rolling Stone magazine pointed out that a whole generation, "but for her, might never have heard the work of artists such as Buddy Holly, Elvis Costello, and Chuck Berry."[68]

""Music is meant to lighten your load. By singing it ... you release (the sadness). And release yourself ... an exercise in exorcism. ... You exorcise that emotion ... and diminish sadness and feel joy."

—Linda Ronstadt[69]

Others have argued that Ronstadt had the same generational effect with her Great American Songbook music, exposing a whole new generation to the music of the 1920s and 1930s – music which, ironically, was pushed aside because of the advent of rock 'n' roll. When interpreting, Ronstadt said she "sticks to what the music demands", in terms of lyrics.[70] Explaining that rock and roll music is part of her culture, she says that the songs she sang after her rock and roll hits were part of her soul. "The (Mariachi music) was my father's side of the soul," she was quoted as saying in a 1998 interview she gave at her Tucson home. "My mother's side of my soul was the Nelson Riddle stuff. And I had to do them both in order to reestablish who I was."[71]

In the 1974 book Rock 'N' Roll Woman, author Katherine Orloff writes that Ronstadt's "own musical preferences run strongly to rhythm and blues, the type of music she most frequently chooses to listen to ... (and) her goal is to ... be soulful too. With this in mind, Ronstadt fuses country and rock into a special union."[47]

By this stage of her career, Ronstadt had established her niche in the field of country-rock. Along with other musicians such as The Flying Burrito Brothers, Emmylou Harris, Gram Parsons, Swampwater, Neil Young, and the Eagles, she helped free country music from stereotypes and showed rockers that country was okay. However, she stated that she was being pushed hard into singing more rock and roll.[62]

Most successful female singer of the 1970s[edit]

Author Andrew Greeley, in his book God in Popular Culture, described Ronstadt as "the most successful and certainly the most durable and most gifted woman Rock singer of her era."[72] Signaling her wide popularity as a concert artist, outside of the singles charts and the recording studio, Dirty Linen magazine describes her as the "first true woman rock 'n' roll superstar ... (selling) out stadiums with a string of mega-successful albums."[26] Amazon.com defines her as the American female rock superstar of the decade.[73] Cashbox gave Ronstadt a Special Decade Award,[74] as the top-selling female singer of the 1970s.[18]

Her album covers, posters, magazine covers – her entire rock 'n' roll image – were as famous as her music.[25] By the end of the decade, the singer whom the Chicago Sun Times described as the "Dean of the 1970s school of female rock singers"[67] became what Redbook called "the most successful female rock star in the world."[75] "Female" was the important qualifier, according to Time magazine, which labeled her "a rarity ... to (have survived) ... in the shark-infested deeps of rock."[45]

Although Ronstadt had been a cult favorite on the music scene for several years, 1975 was "remembered in the music biz as the year when 29-year-old Linda Ronstadt belatedly happened."[76]

With the release of Heart Like a Wheel, Ronstadt reached #1 on the Billboard Album Chart (it was also the first of four #1 Country Albums) and the disc was certified double-platinum[77] (over two million copies sold in the U.S.). In many instances, her own interpretations were more successful than the original recordings, and many times new songwriters were discovered by a larger audience as a result of her interpretation and recording. Ronstadt had major success interpreting songs from a diverse spectrum of artists.

Heart Like a Wheel's first single release, "You're No Good" – a rockified version of an R&B song written by Clint Ballard, Jr. that Ronstadt had initially resisted because Andrew Gold's guitar tracks sounded too much like a "Beatles song" to her[61] – climbed to #1 on both the Billboard and Cash Box Pop singles charts.[78] The album's second single release, "When Will I Be Loved" – an uptempo country-rock version of a Top 10 Everly Brothers song – hit #1 in Cashbox and #2 in Billboard.[78] The song was also Ronstadt's first #1 country hit.[78]

The album showed a physically attractive Ronstadt on the cover but, more importantly, its critical and commercial success was due to a fine presentation of country and rock, with Heart Like a Wheel her first of many major commercial successes that would set her on the path to being one of the best-selling female artists of all time. Ronstadt won her first Grammy Award[79] for Best Country Vocal Performance/Female for "I Can't Help It (If I'm Still In Love With You)" which was originally a 1940s hit by Hank Williams. Ronstadt's interpretation peaked at #2 on the country chart. The album itself was nominated for the Album of the Year Grammy.

Rolling Stone magazine put Ronstadt on its cover in March 1975. It was the first of six Rolling Stone magazine covers shot by photographer Annie Leibovitz. It included her as the featured artist with a full photo layout and an article by Ben Fong-Torres, discussing Ronstadt's many struggling years in rock n roll, as well as her home life and what it was like to be a woman on tour in a decidedly all-male environment.

In September 1975, Ronstadt's album Prisoner In Disguise was released. It quickly climbed into the Top Five on the Billboard Album Chart and sold over a million copies.[77] It became her second in a row to go platinum, "a grand slam" in the same year (Ronstadt would eventually become the first female artist in popular music history to have three consecutive platinum albums and would ultimately go on to have eight consecutive platinum albums, and then another six between 1983 and 1990).[76] The disc's first single release was "Love Is A Rose". It was climbing the pop and country charts but Heat Wave, a rockified version of the 1963 hit by Martha and the Vandellas, was receiving considerable airplay. Asylum pulled the "Love Is a Rose" single and issued "Heat Wave" with "Love Is a Rose" on the B-side. "Heat Wave" hit the Top Five on Billboard's Hot 100 while "Love Is A Rose" hit the Top Five on Billboard's country chart.

In 1976, Ronstadt reached the Top 3 of Billboard's Album Chart and won her second career Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance for her third consecutive platinum[77] album Hasten Down the Wind. The album featured a sexy, revealing cover shot and showcased Ronstadt the singer-songwriter, who composed two of its songs, "Try Me Again" (co-authored with Andrew Gold) and "Lo Siento Mi Vida". It also included an interpretation of Willie Nelson's classic "Crazy", which became a Top 10 Country hit for Ronstadt in early 1977.

At the end of 1977, Ronstadt surpassed the success of Heart Like a Wheel with her album Simple Dreams, which held the #1 position for five consecutive weeks on the Billboard Album Chart. It also knocked Elvis Presley out of #1 on Billboard's Country Albums chart. It sold over 3½ million copies in less than a year in the U.S. alone. The album was released in September 1977, and by December it had replaced Fleetwood Mac's long-running #1 album Rumours in the top spot. Simple Dreams spawned a string of hit singles on numerous charts. Among them were the RIAA platinum-certified single "Blue Bayou", a Country Rock interpretation of a Roy Orbison song; "It's So Easy" – previously sung by Buddy Holly – ; and "Poor Poor Pitiful Me", a song written by Warren Zevon, an up-and-coming songwriter of the time whom Ronstadt elected to highlight and record. The album garnered several Grammy Award nominations – including Record of the Year and Best Pop Vocal Performance/Female for "Blue Bayou" – and won its art director, Kosh, a Grammy Award for Best Album Cover, the first of three Grammy Awards he would win for designing Ronstadt album covers.

Simple Dreams became one of the singer's best-selling international-selling albums as well, reaching #1 on the Australian and Canadian Pop and Country Albums charts.[80] Simple Dreams also made Ronstadt the most successful international female touring artist as well. The same year, she completed a concert tour around Europe. As Country Music Magazine wrote in October 1978, Simple Dreams solidified Ronstadt's role as "easily the most successful female rock and roll and country star at this time."[44]

Also in 1977, she was asked by the Los Angeles Dodgers to sing the U.S. National Anthem at game three of the World Series against the New York Yankees.[81]

Time magazine and Ronstadt's "rock chick" image[edit]

Ronstadt has remarked that she felt as though she was "artificially encouraged to kinda cop a really tough attitude (and be tough) because rock and roll is kind of tough (business)," which she felt wasn't worn quite authentically.[82] Female rock artists like her and Janis Joplin, whom she described as lovely, shy, and very literate in real life and the antithesis of the "red hot mamma" she was artificially encouraged to project, went through an identity crisis.[82]

Ronstadt, on the cover of the February 28, 1977, issue of Time.

By the mid-1970s, Ronstadt's image became just as famous as her music.[25] In 1976 and 1977, she appeared on the covers of Rolling Stone and Time, respectively. The Rolling Stone cover story was accompanied by a series of photographs of Ronstadt in a skimpy red slip, taken by Annie Leibovitz. Ronstadt felt deceived by the photographer, not realizing that the photos would be so revealing. She says her manager Peter Asher kicked Leibovitz out of the house when she visited to show them the photographs prior to publication. Leibovitz had refused to let them veto any of the photos, which included one of Ronstadt sprawled across a bed in her underpants.[25] In a 1977 interview, Ronstadt explained, "Annie [Leibovitz] saw that picture as an expose of my personality. She was right. But I wouldn't choose to show a picture like that to anybody who didn't know me personally, because only friends could get the other sides of me in balance."[83]

Her 1977 appearance on the cover of Time magazine under the banner "Torchy Rock" was also upsetting to Ronstadt, considering what the image appeared to project about the most famous woman in rock.[82][84] At a time in the industry when men still told women what to sing and what to wear,[85] Ronstadt hated the image of her that was projected to the world on that cover,[82] and she noted recently how the photographer kept forcing her to wear a dress, which was an image she did not want to project.[82] In 2004, she was interviewed for CBS This Morning[86] and stated that this image was not her because she did not sit like that. Asher noted, "Anyone who's met Linda for 10 seconds will know that I couldn't possibly have been her Svengali. She's an extremely determined woman, in every area. To me, she was everything that feminism's about."[85] Qualities which, Asher has stated, were considered a "negative (in a woman at that time), whereas in a man they were perceived as being masterful and bold".[63] Since her solo career began, Ronstadt has fought hard to be recognized as a solo female singer in the world of rock, and her portrayal on the Time cover did not appear to help the situation.[56]

In 1978, Rolling Stone magazine declared Ronstadt, "by far America's best-known female rock singer."[28] She scored a third #1 album on the Billboard Album Chart – at this point equaling the record set by Carole King in 1974 – with Living in the USA. She achieved a major hit single with "Ooh Baby Baby", with her rendition hitting all four major singles charts (Pop, AC, Country, R&B). Living in the USA was the first album by any recording act in music history to ship double-platinum (over 2 million advance copies).[27] The album eventually sold 3 million U.S. copies.

At the end of that year, Billboard magazine crowned Ronstadt with three #1 Awards for the Year: Pop Female Singles Artist of the Year, Pop Female Album Artist of the Year, and Female Artist of the Year (overall).[87]

Living in the USA showed the singer on roller skates with a newly short, permed hairdo on the album cover. Ronstadt continued this theme on concert tour promotional posters with photos of her on roller skates in a dramatic pose with a large American flag in the background. By this stage of her career, she was using posters to promote every album[25] and concert – which at the time were recorded live on radio or television.

Ronstadt was also featured in the 1978 film FM, where the plot involved disc jockeys attempting to broadcast a Ronstadt concert live, without a competing station's knowledge. The film also showed Ronstadt performing the songs "Poor, Poor Pitiful Me", "Love Me Tender", and "Tumbling Dice". Ronstadt was persuaded to record "Tumbling Dice" after Mick Jagger came backstage when she was at a concert and said, "You do too many ballads, you should do more rock and roll songs."[88]

Following the success of Living in the USA, Ronstadt conducted album promotional tours and concerts. She made a guest appearance onstage with The Rolling Stones at the Tucson Community Center on July 21, 1978, in her hometown of Tucson, where she and Jagger sang "Tumbling Dice".[89][90] On singing with Jagger, Ronstadt later said, "I loved it. I didn't have a trace of stage fright. I'm scared to death all the way through my own shows. But it was too much fun to get scared. He's so silly onstage, he knocks you over. I mean you have to be on your toes or you wind up falling on your face."[28]

Highest-paid woman in rock[edit]

"Rock is the thumping heart of Linda's music, and the rock world is dominated by males. The biggest stars are male, and so are the back-up musicians ... rock beats are ... phallic, and lyrics ... masculine. ... Janis Joplin, the first great white woman rocker, rattled the bars ... but she died. ... Joni Mitchell ... stylish (but can't) compete in drawing power with men ... (however) Linda Ronstadt ... has made herself one of the biggest individual rock draws in the world."

Time magazine, in 1977[45]

By the end of 1978, Ronstadt had solidified her role as one of rock and pop's most successful solo female acts, and owing to her consistent platinum album success, and her ability as the first-ever woman to sell out concerts in arenas and stadiums hosting tens of thousands of fans,[18] Ronstadt became the "highest paid woman in rock".[27] She had six platinum-certified albums, three of which were #1 on the Billboard album chart, and numerous charted pop singles. In 1978 alone, she made over $12 million[18] (equivalent to $43,000,000 in today's dollars)[91] and in the same year her albums sales were reported to be 17 million – grossing over $60 million[92] (equivalent to a gross of over $170,000,000, in today's dollars).[91]

As Rolling Stone magazine dubbed her "Rock's Venus",[28] her record sales continued to multiply and set records themselves. By 1979, Ronstadt had collected eight gold, six platinum, and four multi-platinum certifications for her albums, an unprecedented feat at the time. Her 1976 Greatest Hits album would sell consistently for the next 25 years and in 2001 was certified by the RIAA for seven-times platinum[77] (over seven million U.S. copies sold). In 1980, Greatest Hits, Volume 2 was released and certified platinum.[77]

In 1979, Ronstadt went on an international tour, playing in arenas across Australia to Japan, including the Melbourne Cricket Ground in Melbourne, Australia, and the Budokan in Tokyo. She also participated in a benefit concert for her friend Lowell George, held at The Forum, in Los Angeles.

By the end of the decade, Ronstadt had outsold her female competition; no other female artist to date had five straight platinum LPs – Hasten Down the Wind and Heart Like a Wheel among them.[93] Us Weekly reported in 1978 that Ronstadt, Joni Mitchell, Stevie Nicks, and Carly Simon had become "The Queens of Rock"[92] and "Rock is no longer exclusively male. There is a new royalty ruling today's record charts."[92]

She would go on to parlay her mass commercial appeal with major success in interpreting The Great American Songbook – made famous a generation before by Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald – and later the Mexican folk songs of her childhood.

From rock to opera[edit]

"Rampant eclecticism is my middle name."

—Linda Ronstadt[52]

In 1980, Ronstadt released Mad Love, her seventh consecutive platinum-selling album. It was a straightforward rock and roll album with post-punk, new wave influences, including tracks by songwriters such as Elvis Costello, The Cretones, and musician Mark Goldenberg who played on the record himself.

She also made the cover of Rolling Stone magazine for a record-setting sixth time. Mad Love entered the Billboard Album Chart in the Top Five its first week (a record at that time) and climbed to the #3 position. The project continued her streak of Top 10 hits with "How Do I Make You?", originally recorded by Billy Thermal, and "Hurt So Bad", originally a Top 10 hit for Little Anthony & the Imperials. The album earned Ronstadt a 1980 Grammy Award nomination for Best Rock Vocal Performance/Female (although she lost to Pat Benatar's Crimes of Passion album). Benatar praised Ronstadt by stating, "There are a lot of good female singers around. How could I be the best? Ronstadt is still alive!"[94]

Rex Smith, Ronstadt and Kevin Kline, ca. 1980, from the Central Park production of The Pirates of Penzance.

In the summer of 1980 Ronstadt began rehearsals for the first of several leads in Broadway musicals. Joseph Papp cast her as the lead in the New York Shakespeare Festival production of Gilbert and Sullivan's The Pirates of Penzance, alongside Kevin Kline.[95] She said singing Gilbert and Sullivan was a natural choice for her, since her grandfather Fred Ronstadt was credited with having created Tucson's first orchestra, the Club Filarmonico Tucsonense, and had once created an arrangement of The Pirates of Penzance.[38]

The Pirates of Penzance opened for a limited engagement in New York City's Central Park, eventually moving its production to Broadway, where it became a hit, running from January 8, 1981, to November 28, 1982.[96] Newsweek was effusive in its praise: "... she has not dodged the coloratura demands of her role (and Mabel is one of the most demanding parts in the G&S canon): from her entrance trilling 'Poor Wand'ring One,' it is clear that she is prepared to scale whatever soprano peaks stand in her way."[78] Ronstadt co-starred with Kline and Angela Lansbury in the 1983 operetta's film version. Ronstadt received a Golden Globe nomination for the role in the film version. She garnered a nomination for the Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical and The Pirates of Penzance won several Tony Awards, including a Tony Award for Best Revival.

As a child, Ronstadt had discovered the opera La bohème through the silent film with Lillian Gish and was determined to someday play the part of Mimi. When she met the opera superstar Beverly Sills, she was told, "My dear, every soprano in the world wants to play Mimi!" In 1984, Ronstadt was cast in the role at Joseph Papp's Public Theater. However, the production was a critical and commercial disaster, closing after only a few nights.[97]

In 1988, Ronstadt would return to Broadway for a limited-run engagement in the musical show adaptation of her album celebrating her Mexican heritage, Canciones De Mi Padre – A Romantic Evening in Old Mexico.[98]

In 1982, Ronstadt released the album Get Closer, a primarily rock album with some country and pop music as well. It remains her only album between 1975 and 1990 not to be officially certified platinum. It peaked at #31 on the Billboard Album Chart. The release continued her streak of Top 40 hits with "Get Closer" and "I Knew You When" – a 1965 hit by Billy Joe Royal – while the Jimmy Webb song "Easy For You To Say" was a surprise Top 10 Adult Contemporary hit in the spring of 1983. "Sometimes You Just Can't Win" was picked up by country radio, and made it to #27 on that listing. Rondstadt also filmed several music videos for this album which became popular on the fledgling MTV cable channel. The album earned Ronstadt two Grammy Award nominations: one for Best Rock Vocal Performance/Female for the title track and another for Best Pop Vocal Performance/Female for the album. The artwork won its art director, Kosh, his second Grammy Award for Best Album Package.

Along with the release of her Get Closer album, Ronstadt embarked on a North American tour, remaining one of the top rock-concert draws that summer and fall. On November 25, 1982, her "Happy Thanksgiving Day" concert was held at the Reunion Arena in Dallas and broadcast live via satellite to NBC radio stations in the United States.[99]

Artistic aspirations[edit]

Ronstadt has remarked that in the beginning of her career "(she) ... was so focused on folk, rock and country that..(she) got a bit bored and started to branch out, and ... (has) been doing that ever since."[100] By 1983, her estimated worth was over $40 million[101] mostly from records, concerts and merchandising.

Ronstadt eventually tired of playing arenas.[82] She had ceased to feel that arenas, where people milled around smoking marijuana cigarettes and drinking beer, were "appropriate places for music". She wanted "angels in the architecture" – a reference to a lyric in the Paul Simon song "You Can Call Me Al" from the 1986 album Graceland. (Ronstadt sang harmony with Simon on a different Graceland track, "Under African Skies". The lyrics pay tribute to Ronstadt: "Take this child, Lord, from Tucson, Arizona. ...") Ronstadt has said she wants to sing in places similar to the theatre of ancient Greece, where the attention is focused on the stage and performer.[102]

Ronstadt's recording output in the 1980s proved to be just as commercially and critically successful as her 1970s recordings. Between 1983 and 1990, Ronstadt scored six additional platinum albums; two are triple platinum (each with over three million U.S. copies sold); one has been certified double platinum (over two million copies sold); and one has earned additional certification as a Gold (over 500,000 U.S. copies sold) double-disc album.[35]

By recording traditional pop, traditional country, traditional Latin roots, and adult contemporary, Ronstadt resonated with a different fan base and diversified her appeal.

Jazz/pop trilogy[edit]

In 1981, Ronstadt produced and recorded an album of jazz and pop standards (later marketed in bootleg form) titled Keeping Out of Mischief with the assistance of producer Jerry Wexler. However, Ronstadt's displeasure with the final result led her, with regrets, to scrap the project. "Doing that killed me," she said in a Time magazine interview.[103] But the appeal of the album's music had seduced Ronstadt, as she told Down Beat magazine in April 1985, crediting Wexler for encouraging her.[104] Nonetheless, Ronstadt had to somehow convince her reluctant record company, Elektra Records, to greenlight this type of album under her contract.[105]

By 1983, Ronstadt had enlisted the help of 62-year-old conductor and master of jazz/traditional pop orchestration Nelson Riddle. The two embarked on an unorthodox and original approach to rehabilitating the Great American Songbook, recording a trilogy of jazz/ traditional pop albums: What's New (1983—U.S. 3.7 million as of 2010); Lush Life (1984—U.S. 1.7 million as of 2010); and For Sentimental Reasons (1986—U.S. 1.3 million as of 2010). The three albums have had a combined sales total of nearly seven million copies in the U.S. alone.

"I now realize I was taking a tremendous risk, and that Joe Smith (the head of Elektra Records, and strongly opposed) was looking out for himself, and for me. When it became apparent I wouldn't change my mind, he said: 'I love Nelson so much! Can I please come to the sessions. I said 'Yes.' "When the albums ... were successful, Joe congratulated me, and I never said 'I told you so.'"

—Linda Ronstadt[106]

The album design for What's New by designer Kosh was unlike any of her previous disc covers. It showed Ronstadt in a vintage dress lying on shimmering satin sheets with a Walkman headset. At the time, Ronstadt received some chiding for both the album cover and her venture into what was then considered "elevator music" by cynics, but remained determined to record with Riddle, and What's New became a hit. The album was released in September 1983 and spent 81 weeks on the Billboard Album Chart and held the #3 position for a month and a half (held out of the top spot by Michael Jackson's Thriller and Lionel Richie's Can't Slow Down) and the RIAA certified it triple platinum[77] (over three million copies sold in the U.S. alone). The album earned Ronstadt another Grammy nomination for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance, and critical raves, with Time magazine calling it "one of the gutsiest, most unorthodox and unexpected albums of the year."[107]

Ronstadt faced considerable pressure not to record What's New or record with Riddle. According to jazz historian Peter Levinson, author of the book September in the Rain – a Biography on Nelson Riddle, Joe Smith, president of Elektra Records, was terrified that the Riddle album would turn off Ronstadt's rock audience.[105] Ronstadt did not completely turn her back on her rock and roll past, however; the video for the title track featured Danny Kortchmar as the old beau that she bumped into during a rainstorm.

What's New brought Riddle to a younger audience. According to Levinson, "the younger audience hated what Riddle had done with Frank Sinatra,[108] which in 1983 was considered 'Vintage Pop'". Working with Ronstadt, Riddle brought his career back into focus in the last three years of his life.[108] Stephen Holden of The New York Times wrote, What's New "isn't the first album by a rock singer to pay tribute to the golden age of the pop, but is ... the best and most serious attempt to rehabilitate an idea of pop that Beatlemania and the mass marketing of rock LPs for teenagers undid in the mid-60s. ... In the decade prior to Beatlemania, most of the great band singers and crooners of the 40s and 50s codified a half-century of American pop standards on dozens of albums ... many of them now long out-of-print."[109] What's New is the first album by a rock singer to have major commercial success in rehabilitating the Great American Songbook.[109]

In 1984, Ronstadt and Riddle performed these songs live, in concert halls throughout Australia, Japan, and the United States, including multi-night performances at historic venues Carnegie Hall, Radio City Music Hall, and Pine Knob.

In 2004, Ronstadt released Hummin' to Myself, her album for Verve Records. It was her first foray into traditional jazz since her sessions with Jerry Wexler and her records with the Nelson Riddle Orchestra, but this time with an intimate jazz combo. The album was a quiet affair for Ronstadt, giving few interviews and making only one television performance as promotion. It reached #2 on Billboard's Top Jazz Albums chart but peaked at #166 on the main Billboard album chart. Not having the mass distribution that Warner Music gave her, Hummin' To Myself had sold over 75,000 copies in the U.S. as of 2010. It also achieved some critical acclaim from the jazz cognoscenti.[8]

"Trio" recordings[edit]

"When (we) sang, it was a beautiful and different sound I've never heard before. We (recorded the vocals) as individual parts, because we didn't have the luxury of spending a lot of time together on a tour bus ... and knowing each other's (vocal) moves ... takes years."

—Linda Ronstadt[43]

In 1978, Ronstadt, Dolly Parton, and Emmylou Harris, friends and admirers of one another's work (Ronstadt had included a cover of Parton's "I Will Always Love You" on Prisoner in Disguise) attempted to collaborate on a Trio album. Unfortunately, the attempt did not pan out. Ronstadt later remarked that not too many people were in control at the time and everyone was too involved with their own careers. (Though the efforts to complete the album were abandoned, a number of the recordings were included on the singers' respective solo recordings over the next few years.) This concept album was put on the back burner for almost ten years.

In January 1986, the three eventually did make their way into the recording studio, where they spent the next several months working. The result, Trio, which they had conceived ten years earlier, was released in March 1987. It was a considerable hit, holding the #1 position on Billboard's Country Albums chart for five weeks running and hitting the Top 10 on the pop side also. Selling over three million copies in the U.S. and winning them a Grammy Award for Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal, it produced four Top Ten Country singles including "To Know Him Is To Love Him" which hit #1. The album was also a nominee for overall Album of the Year, in the company of Michael Jackson, U2, Prince, and Whitney Houston.

In 1994, the three performers recorded a follow-up to Trio. As was the case with their aborted 1978 effort, conflicting schedules and competing priorities delayed the album's release indefinitely. Ronstadt, who had already paid for studio time – and owed her record company a finished album – removed Parton's individual tracks at Parton's request, kept Harris's vocals, and produced a number of the recordings, which she subsequently released on her 1995 return to country rock, the album Feels Like Home.

However, in 1999, Ronstadt, Parton, and Harris agreed to release the Trio II album, as was originally recorded in 1994. It included an ethereal cover of Neil Young's "After The Gold Rush" which became a popular music video. The effort was certified Gold (over 500,000 copies sold) and won them a Grammy Award for Best Country Collaboration with Vocals for the track. Ronstadt co-produced the album with George Massenburg and the three ladies also received a nomination for the Grammy Award for Best Country Album.

Canciones – songs of the Ronstadt family[edit]

At the end of 1987, Ronstadt released Canciones de Mi Padre, an album of traditional Mexican folk songs, or what she has described as "world class songs". Keeping with the Ronstadt history theme, her cover art was dramatic, bold, and colorful; it shows Ronstadt in full Mexican regalia. Her musical arranger was mariachi musician Rubén Fuentes.

These canciones were a big part of Ronstadt's family tradition and musical roots. For example, the history of this album goes back half a century. In January 1946, the University of Arizona published a booklet by Luisa Espinel entitled Canciones de mi Padre.[110] Luisa Espinel, Ronstadt's aunt, was herself an international singer in the 1920s and 1930s. Espinel's father was Fred Ronstadt, Linda's grandfather, and the songs she had learned, transcribed, and published were some of the ones he had brought with him from Sonora. Ronstadt researched and extracted from the favorites she had learned from her father Gilbert and she called her album by the same name as her aunt's booklet and as a tribute to her father and his family. Though not fully bilingual, she has a fairly good command of the Spanish language, allowing her to sing Latin American songs with little discernible Anglo accent; Ronstadt has often identified herself as Mexican-American.[111] Her formative years were spent with her father's side of the family.[112] In fact, in 1976, Ronstadt had collaborated with her father to write and compose a traditional Mexican folk ballad, "Lo siento mi vida" – a song that she included in her Grammy Award-winning album Hasten Down the Wind. Also, Ronstadt has credited Mexican singer Lola Beltrán as an influence in her own singing style, and she recalls how a frequent guest to the Ronstadt home, Eduardo "Lalo" Guerrero, father of Chicano music, would often serenade her as a child.[38]

This album won Ronstadt a Grammy Award for Best Mexican-American Performance. The real achievement, however, is the disc's RIAA double-platinum[77] (over two million copies sold in the U.S.) certification, making it the biggest-selling non-English-language album in U.S. music history. Another achievement is that the album and later theatrical stage show, served as a benchmark of Latin cultural renaissance in North America.

"(I obtained) enough clout and ... after years and years of making commercial records, I was entitled to experiment ... the success of the (Nelson Riddle albums) ... entitled me to try the Mexican stuff."

—Linda Ronstadt [52]

Ronstadt produced and performed a theatrical stage show in concert halls across the U.S. and Latin America to both Hispanic and non-Hispanic audiences, including on Broadway. She called the stage show by the same name Canciones de mi Padre. These performances were released on DVD. Ronstadt elected to return to the Broadway stage, four years after she performed in La bohème, for a limited-run engagement. PBS's Great Performances aired the stage show during its annual fund drives and the show was a hit with audiences, earning Ronstadt a Primetime Emmy Award for Individual Performance in a Variety or Music Program.

Ronstadt later recorded two additional discs of Latin music in the early 1990s; their promotion, like most of her albums in the 1990s, was a quieter affair, where she appeared to do the "bare minimum" to promote them. They were not nearly as successful as Canciones De Mi Padre, but were critically acclaimed in some circles. In 1991, she released Mas Canciones, a follow-up to the first Canciones. For this effort she won a Grammy Award for Best Mexican/Mexican-American Album. The following year, she stepped outside of the mariachi genre and decided to record well known "afro-Cuban" songs. This disc was titled Frenesí. Like her two previous Latin recordings ventures, this third Latin album won Ronstadt another Grammy Award, this time the Grammy Award for Best Traditional Tropical Latin Album.

In 1991, Ronstadt acted in the lead role of arch angel San Miguel in La Pastorela, or A Shephard's Tale, a musical filmed at San Juan Bautista. It was written and directed by Luis Valdez. The production was part of the PBS Great Performances series.

Returning to the contemporary music scene[edit]

By the late 1980s, while enjoying the success of her big band jazz collaborations with Riddle and her surprise hit mariachi recordings, Ronstadt elected to return to recording mainstream pop music once again. In 1987, she made a return to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart with "Somewhere Out There", which peaked at #2 in March.[78] Featured in the animated film An American Tail, the sentimental duet with James Ingram was nominated for several Grammy Awards, ultimately winning the Grammy Award for Song of the Year. The song also received a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Original Song and achieved high sales, earning a million-selling gold single in the U.S. – one of the last 45s ever to do so. It was also accompanied by a popular music video. On the heels of this success, Steven Spielberg asked Ronstadt to record the theme song for the animated sequel titled An American Tail: Fievel Goes West, which was titled "Dreams To Dream". Although "Dreams To Dream" failed to achieve the success of "Somewhere Out There", the song did give Ronstadt an Adult Contemporary hit in 1991.

In 1989, Ronstadt released a mainstream pop album and several popular singles. This effort, titled Cry Like A Rainstorm, Howl Like The Wind, became one of the singer's most successful albums – in terms of production, arrangements, chart sales, and critical acclaim. It became Ronstadt's tenth Top 10 album on the Billboard chart, reaching #7 and being certified triple-platinum[77] (over three million copies sold in the U.S.). The album also garnered critical acclaim, receiving numerous Grammy Award nominations and being praised by Amazon.com as "an album that defines virtually everything that is right about adult contemporary pop."[113] Ronstadt featured New Orleans soul singer Aaron Neville on several of the album's songs.

Ronstadt incorporated the sounds of the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir, Tower of Power horns, the Skywalker Symphony, and numerous musicians. It had the duets with Aaron Neville, "Don't Know Much" (Billboard Hot 100 #2 hit, Christmas 1989[78]) and "All My Life" (Billboard Hot 100 #11 hit), both of which were long-running #1 Adult Contemporary hits. The duets earned several Grammy Award nominations. The duo won both the 1989 and 1990 Best Pop Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal awards. Ronstadt's last known live Grammy Award appearance was in 1990 when she and Neville performed "Don't Know Much" together on the telecast.[42] ("Whenever I sing with a different artist, I can get things out of my voice that I can't do by myself", Ronstadt reflected in 2007. "I can do things with Aaron that I can't do alone.")[114]

In December 1990, she participated in a concert held at the Tokyo Dome to commemorate John Lennon's 50th birthday, and to raise awareness of environmental issues. Other participants included Miles Davis, Lenny Kravitz, Hall & Oates, Natalie Cole, Yoko Ono, and Sean Lennon. An album resulted, titled Happy Birthday, John.[115]

A return to roots music[edit]

Continuing with her crafted approach to more mainstream-oriented material, Ronstadt released the highly acclaimed Winter Light album at the end of 1993. It includes New Age arrangements such as the lead single "Heartbeats Accelerating" as well as the self-penned title track and features the unique glass harmonica instrument. It was her first commercial failure since 1972, and peaked at #92 in Billboard, whereas 1995's Feels Like Home was Ronstadt's much heralded return to country-rock and included her version of Tom Petty's classic hit "The Waiting". The single's rollicking, fiddle-infused flip side, "Walk On", returned Ronstadt to the Country Singles chart for the first time since 1983. An album track entitled "The Blue Train" charted 10 weeks in Billboard's Adult Contemporary Top 40. This album fared slightly better than its predecessor, reaching #75. Both albums were later deleted from the Elektra/Asylum catalog. Ronstadt was nominated for three Lo Nuestro Awards in 1993: Female Regional Mexican Artist of the Year, Female Tropical/Salsa Artist of the Year, and her version of the song "Perfidia" was also listed for Tropical/Salsa Song of the Year.[116]

In 1996, Ronstadt produced Dedicated to the One I Love, an album of classic rock and roll songs reinvented as lullabies. The album reached #78 in Billboard and won the Grammy Award for Best Musical Album for Children.

In 1998, Ronstadt released We Ran, her first album in over two years. The album harkened back to Ronstadt's country-rock and folk-rock heyday. She returned to her rock 'n' roll roots with vivid interpretations of songs by Bruce Springsteen, Doc Pomus, Bob Dylan, and John Hiatt. The recording was produced by Glyn Johns. A commercial failure, the album stands – at 60,000 copies sold at the time of its deletion in 2008 – as the poorest-selling studio album in Ronstadt's Elektra/Asylum catalog. We Ran did not chart any singles but it was well received by critics.

Despite the lack of success of We Ran, Ronstadt kept moving towards this adult rock exploration. In the summer of 1999, she released the album Western Wall: The Tucson Sessions, a folk-rock-oriented project with EmmyLou Harris. It earned a nomination for the Grammy Award for the Best Contemporary Folk Album, and made the Top 10 of Billboard's Country Albums chart (#73 on the main Billboard album chart). However, it would sell roughly half the number of copies that Trio II sold and had gone out of print as of December 2010.

Also in 1999, Ronstadt went back to her concert roots, when she performed with the Eagles and Jackson Browne at Staples Center's 1999 New Year's Eve celebration kicking off the December 31 end-of-the-millennium festivities. As Staples Center Senior Vice President and General Manager Bobby Goldwater said, "It was our goal to present a spectacular event as a sendoff to the 20th century", and "Eagles, Jackson Browne, and Linda Ronstadt are three of the most popular acts of the century. Their performances will constitute a singular and historic night of entertainment for New Year's Eve in Los Angeles."[117]

In 2000, Ronstadt completed her long contractual relationship with the Elektra/Asylum label. The fulfillment of this contract commenced with the release of A Merry Little Christmas, her first holiday collection, which includes rare choral works, the somber Joni Mitchell song "River", and a rare recorded duet with the late Rosemary Clooney on Clooney's signature song, "White Christmas".

Since leaving Warner Music, Ronstadt has gone on to release one album each under Verve and Vanguard Records.

"Your musical soul is like facets of a jewel, and you stick out one facet at a time ... (and) I tend to work real hard on whatever it is I do, to get it up to speed, up to a professional level. I tend to bury myself in one thing for years at a time."

—Linda Ronstadt[25]

In 2006, recording as the ZoZo Sisters, Ronstadt teamed with her new friend, musician and musical scholar Ann Savoy, to record Adieu False Heart. It was an album of roots music incorporating pop, Cajun, and early-20th-century music and released on the Vanguard Records label. But Adieu False Heart was a commercial failure, peaking at #146 in the U.S. despite her touring for the final time that year. It was the last time Linda Ronstadt would record an album, having begun to lose her singing ability as the result of Parkinson's disease, diagnosed in December 2012. Adieu False Heart, recorded in Louisiana, features a cast of local musicians, including Chas Justus, Eric Frey and Kevin Wimmer of the Red Stick Ramblers, Sam Broussard of The Mamou Playboys, Dirk Powell, and Joel Savoy, as well as an array of Nashville musicians: fiddler Stuart Duncan, mandolinist Sam Bush, and guitarist Bryan Sutton. The recording earned two Grammy Award nominations: Best Traditional Folk Album and Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical.

In 2007, Ronstadt could be heard on the compilation album We All Love Ella: Celebrating the First Lady of Song – a tribute album to jazz music's all-time most heralded artist – on the track "Miss Otis Regrets".[118]

In the summer of 2007, Ronstadt headlined the Newport Folk Festival, making her debut at this event, where she incorporated jazz, rock, and folk music into her repertoire. It was one of her final concerts.

In 2010, Ronstadt contributed the arrangement and lead vocal to "A La Orilla de un Palmar" on The Chieftans studio album San Patricio {with Ry Cooder}. As of 2014, this remains her most recent commercially available recording as lead vocalist.

Retirement[edit]

In 2011, Ronstadt was interviewed by the Arizona Daily Star and announced her retirement.[33] In August 2013, she revealed to AARP that she has Parkinson's disease, and "can no longer sing a note."[119]

Selected list of career achievements[edit]

Personal life[edit]

Beginning in the mid-1970s, Ronstadt's private life became increasingly public. It was fueled by a relationship with then–Governor of California Jerry Brown, a Democratic presidential candidate. They shared a Newsweek magazine cover in April 1979.[128] Us Weekly magazine put them on its cover. Ronstadt and Brown took a trip to Africa which became fodder for the international press, and People magazine put them on its cover.

In the mid-1980s, Ronstadt was engaged to Star Wars director George Lucas.[129]

In the early 1980s, Ronstadt was criticized by music critics for playing concerts in South Africa under apartheid. [130][131][132] She was listed by the U.N. as supporting apartheid by performing there. At the time, she stated, "The last place for a boycott is in the arts" and "I don't like being told I can't go somewhere."[133]

In December 1990, she adopted an infant daughter, Mary Clementine.[134] She later adopted a baby boy, Carlos Ronstadt in 1994.[135] Ronstadt has never married.[136] Speaking of finding an acceptable mate, in 1974 she told Peter Knobler in Crawdaddy, "... he's real kind but isn't inspired musically, and then you meet somebody else that's just so inspired musically that he just takes your breath away, but he's such a moron, such a maniac that you can't get along with him. And then after that it's the problem of finding someone that can stand you!"[137]

After living in Los Angeles for 30 years, Ronstadt moved to San Francisco because she said she never felt at home in Southern California.[135] "Los Angeles became too enclosing an environment," she says. "I couldn't breathe the air, and I didn't want to drive on the freeways to get to the studio. I also didn't want to embrace the values that have been so completely embraced by that city. Are you glamorous? Are you rich? Are you important? Do you have clout? It's just not me, and it never was me." [41] In 1997, Ronstadt sold her home in San Francisco and moved back to her hometown of Tucson, Arizona, to raise her two children.[135] In more recent years, Ronstadt moved back to San Francisco while continuing to maintain her home in Tucson.

In 2009, in honor of Ronstadt, the Martin Guitar Company made a 00–42 model "Linda Ronstadt Limited Edition" acoustic guitar. Ronstadt appointed the Land Institute as recipient of all proceeds from her signature guitar.[138]

In the summer of 2011, Simon & Schuster announced their publishing of Ronstadt's autobiography.[139][140] Simple Dreams: A Musical Memoir, and the Spanish version Sueños Sencillos – Memorias Musicales is scheduled to be released on September 17, 2013.[141]

In August 2013, Ronstadt revealed she has Parkinson's disease, leaving her unable to sing due to loss of muscle control, which is common to Parkinson's patients. She was diagnosed eight months prior to the announcement and had initially attributed the symptoms she had been experiencing to the aftereffects of shoulder surgery and a tick bite.[142][143]

Political activism[edit]

Ronstadt's politics received criticism and praise during and after her July 17, 2004, performance at the Aladdin Theatre for the Performing Arts in Las Vegas. Toward the end of the show, as she had done across the country, Ronstadt spoke to the audience, praising Fahrenheit 9/11, Michael Moore's documentary film about the Iraq War; she dedicated the song "Desperado" to Moore.[144] Accounts say the crowd's initial reaction was mixed, with "half the crowd heartily applauding her praise for Moore, (and) the other half booing."[144]

Following the concert, news accounts reported that Ronstadt was "evicted" from the hotel premises.[145] Ronstadt's comments, as well as the reactions of some audience members and the hotel, became a topic of discussion nationwide. Aladdin casino president Bill Timmins and Michael Moore each made public statements on the controversy.[146]

The incident prompted international headlines and debate on an entertainer's right to express a political opinion from the stage, and made the editorial section of The New York Times.[147] Following the incident, many friends of Ronstadt's, including the Eagles, immediately cancelled their engagements at the Aladdin.[42] Ronstadt also received telegrams of support from her rock 'n' roll friends around the world, such as The Rolling Stones, The Eagles, and Elton John. Amid reports of mixed public response, Ronstadt continued in her praise of Moore and his film throughout her 2004 and 2006 summer concerts across North America.

At a 2006 concert in Canada, Ronstadt told the Calgary Sun that she was "embarrassed George Bush (was) from the United States. ... He's an idiot.... He's enormously incompetent on both the domestic and international scenes. ... Now the fact that we were lied to about the reasons for entering into war against Iraq and thousands of people have died – it's just as immoral as racism." Her remarks drew international headlines. In an August 14, 2007, interview, she commented on all her well-publicized, outspoken views, in particular the Aladdin incident by noting, "If I had it to do over I would be much more gracious to everyone ... you can be as outspoken as you want if you are very, very respectful. Show some grace".[148]

In August 2009, Ronstadt, in a well-publicized interview to PlanetOut Inc. titled "Linda Ronstadt's Gay Mission", championed gay rights and same-sex marriage and stated that "homophobia is anti-family values. Period, end of story."[149]

On January 16, 2010, Ronstadt converged with thousands of other activists in a "National Day of Action". Ronstadt stated that her "dog in the fight" – as a native Arizonan and coming from a law enforcement family – was the treatment of illegal aliens and Arizona's enforcement of its illegal immigrant law, especially Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's immigration efforts.[150]

On April 29, 2010, Ronstadt began a campaign, including joining a lawsuit,[151] against Arizona's new illegal-immigration law SB 1070 calling it a "devastating blow to law enforcement ... the police don't protect us in a democracy with brute force", something she said she learned from her brother, Peter, who was Chief of Police in Tucson.[152]

Ronstadt has also been outspoken on environmental and community issues. She is a major supporter and admirer of sustainable agriculture pioneer Wes Jackson, saying in 2000 that "the work he's doing right now is the most important work there is in the (United States)",[129] and dedicating the rock anthem "Desperado" to him at an August 2007 concert in Kansas City, Kansas .[153]

In 2007, Ronstadt resided in the San Francisco area, while also maintaining her home in Tucson, Arizona.[154] That same year, she drew criticism and praise[155] from Tucsonans for commenting that the local city council's failings, developers' strip mall mentality, greed, and growing dust problem had rendered the city unrecognizable and poorly developed.[156]

National arts advocate[edit]

"In the United States we spend millions of dollars on sports because it promotes teamwork, discipline, and the experience of learning to make great progress in small increments. Learning to play music together does all this and more."

Congressional testimony from Linda Ronstadt[157]

In 2008, Ronstadt was appointed Artistic Director of the San José Mariachi and Mexican Heritage Festival.[158][159] On March 31, 2009, in testimony that the Los Angeles Times viewed as "remarkable",[160] Ronstadt spoke to the United States Congress House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment & Related Agencies, attempting to convince lawmakers to budget $200 million in the 2010 fiscal year for the National Endowment of the Arts.[159]

Ronstadt has also been honored for her contribution to the American arts. On September 23, 2007, Ronstadt was inducted into the Arizona Music & Entertainment Hall of Fame, along with Stevie Nicks, Buck Owens, and filmmaker Steven Spielberg.[161] On August 17, 2008, Ronstadt received a tribute by various artists including BeBe Winans and Wynonna Judd, when she was honored with the Trailblazer Award, presented to her by Plácido Domingo at the 2008 ALMA Awards,[162][163] a ceremony later televised in the U.S. on ABC.

In May 2009, Ronstadt received an honorary doctorate of music degree from the Berklee College of Music for her achievements and influence in music, and her contributions to American and international culture.[164] Mix magazine stated that "Linda Ronstadt (has) left her mark on more than the record business; her devotion to the craft of singing influenced many audio professionals ... (and is) intensely knowledgeable about the mechanics of singing and the cultural contexts of every genre she passes".[43]

In 2004, Ronstadt wrote the foreword to the book The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to American Folk Music,[165] and in 2005, she wrote the introduction to the book Classic Ferrington Guitars, about guitar-maker and luthier Danny Ferrington and the custom guitars that he created for Ronstadt and other musicians such as Elvis Costello, Ry Cooder, and Kurt Cobain.[166]

Awards[edit]

Grammy Awards[edit]

  • 1975 – Best Country Vocal Performance, Female, "I Can't Help It (If I'm Still In Love With You)" from Heart Like a Wheel
  • 1976 – Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female, Hasten Down the Wind
  • 1980 – Best Musical Album for Children, In Harmony: A Sesame Street Record (multiple artist compilation w/ Linda Ronstadt)1
  • 1987 – Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal, Trio (with Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris)
  • 1988 – Best Mexican-American Performance, Canciones de Mi Padre
  • 1989 – Best Pop Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal, "Don't Know Much" from Cry Like a Rainstorm, Howl Like the Wind with Aaron Neville
  • 1990 – Best Pop Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal, "All My Life" from Cry Like a Rainstorm, Howl Like the Wind with Aaron Neville
  • 1992 – Best Tropical Latin Album, Frenesi
  • 1993 – Best Mexican-American Album, Mas Canciones
  • 1996 – Best Musical Album for Children, Dedicated to the One I Love
  • 1999 – Best Country Collaboration with Vocals, "After the Gold Rush" from Trio II with Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris

1 "Best Musical Album for Children" Grammy—Linda Ronstadt is not recognised by the Grammy Awards as being a recipient of this particular Grammy, although she participated in the production.[citation needed] Therefore, the Grammy Award site[167] shows Ronstadt the recipient of only 10 Awards, and 17 additional nominations.

Grammy Award nominations[edit]

  • 1970 – Best Contemporary Vocal Performance, Female, "Long, Long Time" from Silk Purse
  • 1975 – Album of the Year, Heart Like a Wheel
  • 1975 – Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female, Heart Like a Wheel
  • 1977 – Record of the Year, "Blue Bayou" from Simple Dreams
  • 1977 – Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female, "Blue Bayou" from Simple Dreams
  • 1980 – Best Rock Vocal Performance, Female, "How Do I Make You" from Mad Love
  • 1982 – Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female, "Get Closer" from the album Get Closer
  • 1982 – Best Rock Vocal Performance, Female, "Get Closer" from the album Get Closer
  • 1983 – Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female, What's New
  • 1985 – Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female, Lush Life
  • 1987 – Album of the Year, Trio with Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris
  • 1987 – Best Pop Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal, "Somewhere Out There" from the soundtrack to An American Tail with James Ingram
  • 1989 – Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female, Cry Like a Rainstorm, Howl Like the Wind with Aaron Neville
  • 1999 – Best Country Album, Trio II with Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris
  • 1999 – Best Contemporary Folk Album, Western Wall: The Tucson Sessions with Emmylou Harris
  • 2002 – Best Traditional Folk Album, Evangeline Made: A Tribute to Cajun Music, multiple artist compilation, with vocalist Ann Savoy
  • 2006 – Best Traditional Folk Album, Adieu False Heart with Ann Savoy

Latin Grammy Award[edit]

  • 2011 – Latin Recording Academy Lifetime Achievement Award[168]

Arizona Music and Entertainment Hall of Fame inductee[edit]

  • 2007 – For her significant impact and evolution and development of the entertainment culture in the state of Arizona

Academy of Country Music Award[edit]

  • 1974 – Best New Female Artist
  • 1987 – Best Album / Trio, Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris

Primetime Emmy Award[edit]

  • 1989 – Outstanding Individual Performance in a Variety or Music Program, Linda Ronstadt, Great Performances: Canciones de Mi Padre

American Latino Media Arts Award[edit]

  • 2008 – Trailblazer Award for Contribution to American Music[169]

Tony Award nomination[edit]

  • 1981 – Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical, Linda Ronstadt in The Pirates of Penzance as "Mabel"

Golden Globe Award nomination[edit]

  • 1983 – Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical or Comedy, Linda Ronstadt in The Pirates of Penzance

Lo Nuestro Awards nominations[edit]

Discography[edit]

Filmography[edit]

Film, television and theater
Year Title Role Notes
1968–1969 It's Happening herself 2 episodes
1969–1971 The Johnny Cash Show herself 4 episodes
1970 Hee Haw herself episode: "1.28"
1970 Playboy After Dark herself; singer 2 episodes
1970 The Darin Invasion herself television film
1975 Cher herself episode: "1.10"
1977–1989 Saturday Night Live herself; musical guest 4 episodes
1978 FM herself - Concert Performance Movie
1980 The Pirates of Penzance Mabel Stanley television film
1980 The Muppet Show herself episode: "5.23"
1981–1982 The Pirates of Penzance Mabel Stanley nominated – Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical
1983 The Pirates of Penzance Mabel Stanley nominated – Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy
1984 La bohème Mimi
1988 Canciones de Mi Padre vocalist winner – Primetime Emmy Award for Individual Performance in a Variety or Music Program
1991 Great Performances San Miguel episode: "La Pastorela"
1992 The Simpsons herself Episode: "Mr. Plow"
1993 The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles Peggy (singing voice) episode: "Young Indiana Jones and the Scandal of 1920"

Book[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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