Linda Marie Ronstadt (born July 15, 1946 in Tucson, Arizona) is an American singer most closely associated with the country rock genre prevalent in the 1970s. Though an occasional songwriter herself, she is better known as an interpreter of other songwriters' works.
Her career began in 1967 with the release of folk-rock group The Stone Poneys' self-titled album. After the break-up of the Stone Poneys, Linda entered the country music field. In 1969, with the release of 'Hand Sown… Home Grown', Ronstadt became the first female singer to release an alt-country album.
Ronstadt achieved her greatest commercial success in the mid-'70s. A singer and record producer, she is recognized as a definitive interpreter of songs. Being one of music's most versatile and commercially successful female singers in U.S. history, she is recognized for her many public stages of self-reinvention and incarnations.
With a one-time standing as the Queen of Rock, where she was bestowed the title of "highest paid woman in rock", and known as the First Lady of Rock, she has more recently emerged as music matriarch, international arts advocate and Human Rights advocate.
Ronstadt has collaborated with artists from a diverse spectrum of genres—including Billy Eckstine, Frank Zappa, Rosemary Clooney, Flaco Jiménez, Philip Glass, The Chieftains, Gram Parsons, Dolly Parton and has lent her voice to over 120 albums around the world. 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.
In total, she has released over 30 solo albums, more than 15 compilations or greatest hits albums. Ronstadt has charted thirty-eight Billboard Hot 100 singles, twenty-one of which have reached the top 40, ten of which have reached the top 10, three peaking at #2, the #1 hit, "You're No Good". In the UK, her single "Blue Bayou" reached the UK Top 40 and the duet with Aaron Neville, "Don't Know Much", peaked at #2 in December 1989. In addition, she has charted thirty-six albums, ten Top 10 albums, and three #1 albums on the Billboard Pop Album Charts.
Ronstadt is considered an "interpreter of her times", and has earned praise for her courage to put her own unique "stamp" on many of these songs. 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, Linda Ronstadt became a highly successful "Albums Artist", some of which contain material written by her. 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."
""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."
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 '30s—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. 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."
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.
Author Father 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." 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." Amazon.com defines her as the American female rock superstar of the decade. Cash Box gave Ronstadt a Special Decade Award, as the top selling female singer of the 1970s. Coupled with the fact that her album covers, posters, magazine covers—basically her entire rock n roll image conveyed—was just as famous as her music. That 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" became what Redbook called, "the most successful female rock star in the world","Female" being the important qualifier, according to Time magazine, labeling her "a rarity … to (have survived) … in the shark-infested deeps of rock."
Linda Ronstadt, ca. 1974, on the cover of the Grammy winning album and 2x platinum certified studio disc, Heart Like a Wheel.
Having 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." 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 for Ronstadt) and the disc was certified Double-Platinum (over 2 million copies sold in the United States). 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 Ronstadt interpreting and recording their songs. Interestingly, Ronstadt had major success interpreting songs from a diverse spectrum of artists. This skill would eventually serve her later in her career, as a noted master song interpreter.
Heart Like A Wheel's first single release was "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—climbed to #1 on both the Billboard and Cash Box Pop singles charts. The album's second single release was "When Will I Be Loved"—an uptempo Country Rock version of a Top 10 Everly Brothers song—hit #1 in Cash Box and #2 in Billboard. The song was also Linda's first #1 Country hit.
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 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 charts. The album itself was nominated for the Album of the Year Grammy as well as the Best Pop Vocal Performance/Female trophy.
Rolling Stone magazine put Linda on its cover in March 1975. This 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, Linda'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. It became her second in a row to go platinum, "a grand slam" in the same year (Ronstadt would eventually be 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). 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.
Linda Ronstadt, ca. 1977, on the cover of the Grammy winning album design and 3x platinum certified studio disc, Simple Dreams.
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 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" 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 most successful international selling albums as well, reaching #1 on the Australian and Canadian Pop and Country Albums charts. Simple Dreams also made Ronstadt the most successful international female touring artist as well. The same year, she completed a highly successful 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."
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.
Ronstadt has remarked that she felt as though she was "artificially encouraged to kinda cop a really tough attitude (and be tough) because Rock & Roll is kind of tough (business)", which she felt wasn't worn quite authentically. 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" routine she was artificially encouraged to project, went through an identity crisis.
Linda Ronstadt, on the cover of the February 28, 1977, issue of Time.
Eventually, Ronstadt's Rock & Roll image became just as famous as her music by the mid 1970s. The 1977 appearance on the cover of Time magazine under the banner "Torchy Rock" was controversial for Ronstadt, considering what the image appeared to project about the most famous woman in rock. At a time in the industry when men still told women what to sing and what to wear, Ronstadt hated the image of her that was projected to the world on the cover of Time magazine, and she noted recently how the photographer kept forcing her to wear a dress, which was an image she did not want to project (although she wore a rather revealing dress for the cover of Hasten Down the Wind which projected an image of her not all that different from the Time magazine cover). In 2004, she was interviewed for CBS This Morning and stated that this image was not her because she didn't 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. 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". 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 didn't appear to help the situation. It was in 1976 that Rolling Stone magazine published in its cover story an alluring collection of photographs taken by Annie Leibovitz, which helped to further the image that Ronstadt later said she wasn't pleased with. Ronstadt and Asher claim to have viewed the photos prior to publication and, when asked that they be removed and the request was denied, they unceremoniously threw Leibovitz out of the house.
In 1978 Rolling Stone magazine declared Ronstadt, "by far America's best-known female rock singer". She scored a third #1 album on the Billboard Album Chart—unsurpassed by any female artist at this point in time—with Living In The USA. Linda achieved a major hit single with "Ooh Baby Baby", with her rendition hitting all four major singles charts (Pop, AC, Country and R&B). Living In The USA was the first album by any recording act, in music history, to ship double-platinum (over 2 million advanced copies). The album eventually sold 3 million U.S. copies.
Linda Ronstadt's promotional poster, for the 1978 Living In The USA album and concert
Billboard magazine crowned Linda Ronstadt with three #1 Awards for the Year: #1 Pop Female Singles Artist of the Year; #1 Pop Female Album Artist of the Year; #1 Female Artist of the Year (overall).
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 promoting every album released, with posters and concerts—which at the time were recorded live on radio and/or TV. Ronstadt was also featured in the 1978 film FM, where the plot involved disc jockeys attempting to broadcast a Linda Ronstadt concert live, without a competing station's knowledge. The movie 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."
Following the success of Living in the USA, Ronstadt not only conducted successful disc promotional tours and concerts but in one concert in 1978, Ronstadt made a guest appearance onstage with The Rolling Stones at the Tucson Community Center on July 21, 1978, in her hometown of Tucson, where Ronstadt and Mick Jagger vocalized on "Tumbling Dice". On singing with Jagger, Ronstadt reflects " 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."
Highest paid woman in rock
"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."
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, Ronstadt became the "highest paid woman in rock". She had six platinum certified albums, three of which went to #1 on the Billboard album chart, and numerous charted Pop singles. In 1978 alone, she made over $12 million (equivalent to $38,000,000 in today's dollars) and in the same year her albums sales were reported to be 17 million—grossing over $60 million (equivalent to a gross of over $170,000,000, in today's dollars).
As Rolling Stone magazine dubbed her "Rock's Venus", 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 7 times platinum (over 7 million U.S. copies sold). In 1980, Greatest Hits Volume II was released and certified platinum.
In 1979, Ronstadt went on a successful international tour, playing in arenas across Australia to Japan, including the Olympic Park Stadium in Melbourne, Australia and the Budokan in Tokyo, Japan. 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. US Magazine reported in 1978, that Linda Ronstadt, Stevie Nicks, Carly Simon and Joni Mitchell had become "The Queens of Rock" and 'Rock is no longer exclusively male. There is a new royalty ruling today's record charts'.
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.
In 1980 Ronstadt recorded Mad Love, her seventh consecutive platinum selling album. Mad Love is a straightforward Rock & 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 Linda Ronstadt by stating, "There are a lot of good female singers around. How could I be the best? Ronstadt is still alive!"
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.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.
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 major hit, running from January 8, 1981, to November 28, 1982.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." Ronstadt co-starred with Kline and Angela Lansbury in the 1983 motion picture version of the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta. Ronstadt received a Golden Globe nomination for the role in the movie version. She garnered a Tony Award nomination 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 La Bohème through the silent movie with Lillian Gish and was determined to someday play the part of Mimi. When she met the late 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 Theatre. However, the production was a critical and commercial disaster, closing after only a few nights.
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.
In 1982 Ronstadt released 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 released to country radio, and made it to #27 on that listing. Linda 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 very successful North American tour, remaining one of the top rock concert draws that summer and fall. On November 25, 1982, Linda's 'Happy Thanksgiving Day' concert was held at the Reunion Arena in Dallas and broadcast live via satellite on radio stations across the United States.
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." By 1983, Linda Ronstadt's estimated worth was over $40 million mostly from successful records, concerts and merchandising.
Ronstadt eventually tired of playing arenas. 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.
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 of these have been certified triple platinum (each with over 3 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.
By recording Traditional pop, Traditional country, Traditional Latin roots, and Adult Contemporary, Ronstadt resonated with a different fan base and diversified her appeal.
Linda Ronstadt, ca. 1983, from the disc What's New, Volume One of "The 'Round Midnight' Trilogy."
In 1981 Linda 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. 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. Nonetheless, Ronstadt had to somehow convince her reticent record company, Elektra Records, to greenlight this type of album under her contract.
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 highly successful 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 a combined sales total of nearly 7 million copies in the United States 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.'"
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 Nelson Riddle, and What's New became a hit. The album was released in September 1983, it 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 (over 3 million U.S. copies sold 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".
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 Nelson Riddle album would turn off Ronstadt's rock audience. Linda 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 Nelson Riddle to a younger audience. According to Levinson, "the younger audience hated what Riddle had done with Frank Sinatra,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. 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." What's New is the first album by a rock singer to have major commercial success in rehabilitating the Great American Songbook.
In 1984 Ronstadt and Nelson 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—which is quite successful for a small record label like Verve Records. It also achieved some critical acclaim from the jazz cognoscenti.
"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."
In 1978, Ronstadt, with Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris, began recording a Trio album. Unfortunately, the attempt was not successful. 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 more successful 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 U.S. copies 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 Dolly's individual tracks at her request, kept Emmylou's vocals on, and produced a number of the recordings, which she subsequently released on her 1995 return to Country Rock, 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 Grammy Nomination for Best Country Album.
Canciones—songs of the Ronstadt family
Linda Ronstadt, ca. 1987, on the cover of the Grammy winning album and 2x platinum certified Canciones de Mi Padre—"Songs Of My Father."
Ronstadt's follow-up mariachi album Mas Canciones won the 1993 Grammy Award for Best Mexican/Mexican-American Album.
At the end of 1987, Ronstadt released an album of traditional Mexican folk songs, or what she describes as "world class songs", titled Canciones de Mi Padre. Keeping with the Ronstadt history theme, her cover art was dramatic, bold, and colorful. For Canciones De Mi Padre, Ronstadt was in full Mexican regalia, and her musical arranger was famed 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.Luisa Espinel, Ronstadt's aunt, was herself an international singer in the 1920s and 1930s. Ms. 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. Her formative years were spent with her father's side of the family. In fact, in 1976, Ronstadt had collaborated with her father to write and compose a Traditional Mexican folk ballad titled "Lo siento mi vida", a song that she included in her Grammy 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.
This album won Ronstadt a Grammy Award for Best Mexican-American Performance. The real achievement, however, is the disc's RIAA double-platinum (over 2 million U.S. copies sold) 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."
Ronstadt produced and performed a theatrical stage show in concert halls across the United States and Latin America to both Hispanic and non-Hispanic audiences, including on the Great White Way. 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, 4 years after she performed in La Bohème, for a limited run engagement. PBS Great Performances aired the celebrated stage show during its annual fund drives and the show was a hit with audiences, earning Ronstadt an Emmy Award for Individual Performance In A Variety Or Music Program.
Linda later recorded two additional discs of Latin music in the early 1990s. Although their promotion, like most of her albums in the 1990s, were a quieter affair for Ronstadt, 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 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. (As of December 2010, it existed on VHS format but had not been released on DVD by that time.)
Returning to the pop music scene
By the late 1980s, while enjoying the success of her big band jazz collaborations with Nelson Riddle and her surprise hit Mariachi recordings, Linda Ronstadt elected to return to recording mainstream pop music once again. In 1987 she made a return to the top of Billboard Hot 100 singles chart with "Somewhere Out There", which peaked at #2 in March. Featured in the animated film An American Tail, the sentimental duet with James Ingram was nominated for several Grammy Awards, ultimately winning "Song of the Year." It also received an Academy Award nomination for Best Motion Picture 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 the #7 position and being certified triple-platinum (over 3 million U.S. copies sold). The album also garnered critical acclaim, receiving numerous Grammy nominations and being praised by Amazon.com as "an album that defines virtually everything that is right about adult contemporary pop." Linda featured New Orleans soul singer Aaron Neville on several of the twelve disc cuts.
Ronstadt incorporated the sounds of the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir, Tower of Power horns, the Skywalker Symphony and numerous musicians. It had duets, including "Don't Know Much" (Billboard Hot 100 #2 hit—Christmas 1989) and "All My Life" (Billboard Hot 100 #11 hit), both of which were long-running #1 Adult Contemporary hits. These duets with Aaron Neville received much critical acclaim, earning several Grammy nominations. The duo won both the 1989 and 1990 Best Pop Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal awards. Linda's last known live Grammy Award appearance was in 1990 when she and Neville performed "Don't Know Much" together on the telecast. ("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.")
In December 1990, Linda Ronstadt 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, Japanese artists, Yoko Ono and Sean Lennon. A CD resulted, titled Happy Birthday, John.
Continuing with her crafted approach to more mainstream-oriented material, Ronstadt released the highly acclaimed Winter Light album at the end of 1993. It included New Age arrangements such as the lead single "Heartbeats Accelerating" as well as the self-penned title track and featured the unique glass armonica instrument. But alas, it was Linda's first commercial failure since 1972, and peaked at a disappointing #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 Linda 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.
In 1996 Ronstadt produced Dedicated to the One I Love, an album of classic rock 'n roll songs reinvented as lullabies. The disc reached #78 in Billboard. Ronstadt was awarded a Grammy in the Best Musical Album for Children category.
In 1998 Ronstadt released We Ran, her first album in over two years. The disc 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 Linda's Elektra/Asylum catalogue. We Ran did not chart any singles but it was well received by critics.
Despite the lack of success of We Ran, Ronstadt kept towards this adult rock exploration. She released Western Wall — The Tucson Sessions in the summer of 1999—a folk-rock oriented project with EmmyLou Harris. It earned a Grammy nomination for 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."
In 2000 Linda Ronstadt completed her long contractual relationship with the Elektra/Asylum Records label. The fulfillment of this contract commenced with the release of A Merry Little Christmas, Linda's first holiday collection, which included rare choral works, the somber Joni Mitchell song "River", and a rare recorded duet with the late Rosemary Clooney on her (Clooney's) signature song, "White Christmas". Since leaving Warner Music, Ronstadt has gone on to release one album each under the Verve and Vanguard Record labels.
"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."
In 2006, recording as the ZoZo Sisters, Ronstadt teamed with her then-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., and turned out to be the final new Linda Ronstadt album.
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 nominations: Best Traditional Folk Album and Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical.
In 2007, Ronstadt could be heard on the compilation LP 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." In the summer of 2007 Ronstadt headlined the Newport Folk Festival, making her debut at this prestigious event, where she incorporated jazz, rock and folk music into her repertoire.
Selected list of career achievements
As of 2015, Linda Ronstadt has earned three #1 Pop albums, ten Top 10 Pop albums and 36 charting Pop albums on the Billboard Pop Album Charts. On Billboard (magazine)'s Top Country Albums chart, she has charted 15 albums including ten Top 10s and four that hit #1.
Also—as of 2015—Ronstadt's singles have earned her a #1 hit and three #2 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 (with ten Top 10 Pop singles and twenty-one reaching the 'Top 40' overall). Additionally she has scored two #1 hits on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart, and two #1 hits and on Billboard's Adult Contemporary chart.
Linda has recorded and released well over 30 studio albums and has made guest appearances on an estimated 120 other albums. Her guest appearances included the classical minimalist Philip Glass's album Songs from Liquid Days, a hit Classical record with other major Pop stars either singing or writing lyrics, she also appeared on Glass's follow up recording; 1000 Airplanes on the Roof, an appearance on Paul Simon's Graceland, she voiced herself in The Simpsons episode "Mr. Plow" and sang a duet "Funny How Time Slips Away" with Homer Simpson on The Yellow Album. Ronstadt has also recorded on albums with artists as diverse as Billy Eckstine, Emmylou Harris, The Chieftains, Dolly Parton, Neil Young, J. D. Souther, Gram Parsons, Bette Midler, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Earl Scruggs, The Eagles, Andrew Gold, Hoyt Axton, Kate and Anna McGarrigle, Mark Goldenberg, Ann Savoy, Karla Bonoff, James Taylor, Warren Zevon, Maria Muldaur, Randy Newman, Nicolette Larson, the Seldom Scene, Rosemary Clooney, Aaron Neville, Rodney Crowell, Hearts and Flowers, Teresa, Laurie Lewis, Yanka Runpika and Flaco Jiménez.
Linda's three biggest-selling studio albums to date are her 1977 release Simple Dreams, 1983's What's New, and 1989's Cry Like A Rainstorm, Howl Like The Wind, each one certified by the Recording Industry Association of America for over 3 million copies sold. Her highest-selling album to date is the 1976 compilation, Greatest Hits, certified for over 7 million units sold in 2001.
Linda Ronstadt became music's first major touring female artist, selling out major venues, and she also became the top-grossing solo female concert artist for the 1970s. Ronstadt remained a highly successful touring artist into the 1990s at which time she decided to 'scale back' to smaller venues.
Cash Box magazine—fierce competition to Billboard in the 1970s—named Linda Ronstadt the '#1 Female Artist of the Decade'.
Linda's RIAA certifications (audits paid for by record companies or artist for promotion) tally (as of 2001), totals 19 Gold, 14 Platinum and 7 Multi-Platinum albums.
Ronstadt's album sales have not been certified since 2001, and at the time, Ronstadt's U.S. album sales were certified by the RIAA at well over 30 million albums sold while Peter Asher, her former producer and manager, placed her total U.S. album sales at over 45 million. Likewise, her worldwide albums sales are in excess of 100 million albums sold.
She was the first female in music history to score three Platinum albums and ultimately racked up a total of eight consecutive platinum albums between 1974 and 1980.
Her album Living In The USA is the first album by any recording act in U.S. music history to ship Double Platinum (over 2 million advanced copies).
Linda's first Latin release, the all-Spanish 1987 album, Canciones De Mi Padre stands as the best-selling non-English-language album in U.S. music history. As of 2015, it had sold over 2½ million U.S. copies. Global sales are estimated to be as high as 9 million.
Ronstadt has served as record producer on various albums from musicians such as her cousin David Lindley and Aaron Neville to singer-songwriter Jimmy Webb. She produced Cristal — Glass Music Through the Ages, an album of classical music using glass instruments with Dennis James, and Ronstadt singing on several of the arrangements. In 1999, Ronstadt also produced the Gold-certified, Grammy Award-winning Trio Two album.
Linda Ronstadt has received a total of 27 Grammy Award nominations in various fields including Rock, Country, Pop, Tropical Latin, Contemporary Folk, Mexican-American, and Children's. She has won 11 competitive Grammy Awards and was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Grammy in 2011.
Ronstadt was the first female solo artist to have two Top 40 singles simultaneously on Billboard magazine's Hot 100: "Blue Bayou" and "It's So Easy" (October 1977). By December, both "Blue Bayou" and "It's So Easy" had climbed into Billboard's Top 5 and remained there for the entire month.
As a singer-songwriter Ronstadt has also written songs covered by several artists, such as "Try Me Again" covered by Trisha Yearwood and "Winter Light" which was co-written and composed with Zbigniew Preisner and Eric Kaz, and covered by Sarah Brightman.
Ronstadt has elected to sing songs written by a diverse group of artist including Lowell George, Zevon, Costello, Souther, Newman, Patty Griffin. Sinéad O'Connor, Julie Miller, Mel Tillis, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, John Hiatt, Joe Melson, Seldom Scene, Bruce Springsteen, George Jones, Tracy Nelson, the Flying Burrito Brothers, Little Feat, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Chuck Berry, the Everly Brothers, Brian Wilson, the Rolling Stones, the Miracles, Oscar Hammerstein II, Roy Orbison and Buddy Holly and the Crickets.
Rolling Stone Magazine writes, a whole generation "but for her, might never have heard the work of Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, or Elvis Costello."
"Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time" included Heart Like A Wheel (1974) at #164 and The Very Best Of Linda Ronstadt (2002) at #324.
In 1999, Ronstadt ranked #21 in VH1's 100 Greatest Women of Rock & Roll. Three years later, she ranked #40 in CMT's 40 Greatest Women in Country Music.
Linda was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease in December of 2012. She released her best-selling autobiography, 'Simple Dreams - A Musical Memior', in 2013. It debuted in the Top 10 of The New York Times Best Sellers List. In 2014, she was inducted into The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. That same year, Ronstadt was awarded The National Medal of Arts from US President Barack Obama.
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