Singing came just as easy as breathing for Linda Ronstadt. She established herself as a professional singer during the mid-1960s around the time of California’s folk music movement. As her career progressed, Ronstadt lent her voice to all sorts of genres including Latin, opera, rock, and country.
Although she never wrote any of her songs, she was inspired by the works of Jackson Browne, the Eagles, Dolly Parton, and more. Her gifted voice allowed her to become the most successful female singer of the 1970s with numerous awards. Ronstadt’s life is anything but ordinary, so keep reading to discover her inspiring journey as a female music icon.
Her Early Life Influenced Her Voice
Linda Maria Ronstadt was born July 15, 1946, in Tucson, Arizona. She was the third out of four children to Gilbert and Ruth Ronstadt and the family lived on a 10-acre ranch. Gilbert came from a long line of Arizona ranchers, who influenced practices such as wagon making, music, and commerce.
On her mother’s side, she was the granddaughter of a famous inventor. He had over 700 patents such as the toaster, refrigerator, electric stove, and microwave. His rubber ice cube tray invention brought in millions of dollars. One of Ronstadt’s fondest childhood memories was listening to the radio and singing with her family.
Music And Performing Was Always A Part Of Her
Ronstadt’s father was said to have “a beautiful baritone singing voice” and her grandfather was part of a brass band in the late 1800s. Her aunt was a performer who would play traditional music around Mexico and Spain. When she became a teenager, Ronstadt and her siblings formed a band.
They started to play local clubs around Tucson and would usually perform folk music. Their band was largely inspired by Peter, Paul, and Mary and would rearrange their songs to fit their voices. Ronstadt knew that singing was going to be her career, so she dropped out of the University of Arizona and moved to California to pursue it.
The Formation Of The Stone Poneys
When Ronstadt was still performing with her siblings, their bass player, Bobby Kimmel, introduced her to a guitarist named Kenny Edwards. The three of them formed her first professional band called the Stone Poneys. Edwards and Kimmel had already been writing songs and all they needed was someone to sing them.
Once they perfected their trio, they started to book gigs at various clubs around Los Angeles, including the Troubadour. Their first hit came in 1967 with “Different Drum,” which led to opportunities to tour with famous bands such as the Doors.
Time To Go Solo
After a couple of years with the Stoney Poneys, Edwards and Kimmel decided to go another route, while Ronstadt pursued a solo career. Ronstadt felt a bit unprepared because she didn’t have anyone to write songs for her anymore. She began to experiment with songs she remembered from her childhood and branched out to work with other top musicians.
Her list of collaborators is long with everyone from the Eagles, Jackson Browne, and Frank Zappa. During the early 1970s, she was able to headline sold-out tours and was called the “first arena-class rock diva.”
And The Award Goes To…
By the mid-1970s, Ronstadt had released several albums, but 1974’s Heart Like A Wheel led to her first Grammy Award. It came with two Billboard chart-toppers including “You’re No Good” and “When Will I Be Loved.” Over the course of almost five decades, Ronstadt has won 12 Grammys with 17 other Grammy nominations.
A lot of her early success can be attributed to record producer Peter Asher. The two had a great working relationship where Ronstadt was allowed to have creative freedom over the majority of her projects.
Why No One Sounds Like Her
One of the reasons why Ronstadt is able to jump around to different genres is due to her uniquely trained voice. She coined the term “Mexican bluegrass” for her Southwestern roots of a fusion between Country, rock, and ranchera music. Country rock started to become more mainstream in the 1960s, which helped her become more popular in the United States.
Many music critics thought she wasn’t going to do well when she switched between genres, but Ronstadt never wanted to label herself as a specific type of artist. Her vocal range spans from contralto to soprano, which is more octaves than most singers.
The Most Successful Singer Of The 1970s
Ronstadt was the first female singer in history to have four consecutive platinum albums. She was selling out stadiums and her image was on the cover of millions of posters, magazines, album covers, and more. Her songs were number one on the music charts and her song covers became more successful than the originals.
She made history as the first person shot by Annie Leibovitz on the cover of Rolling Stone, which included a full photo layout and a lengthy interview by Ben Fong-Torres. In 1977, Ronstadt became the first woman to have two songs on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Top Ten list at the same time.
Keeping Up Her Rock Image
During all her success, she admitted that she felt that she was expected to act tough to keep up with her rock and roll image. Some of her famous magazine covers put her in a different light, which caused her to become upset. Annie Leibovitz had shot some revealing photos of her for Rolling Stone and wouldn’t allow Ronstadt to veto any of them.
At the time, Ronstadt felt she couldn’t control what was being said about her in the media. Being told what to wear and how to act deeply pained her ego.
Bringing In The Cheddar
The late 1970s was a golden time for Ronstadt. She was the most popular female solo act in the country and was consistently selling out concerts, albums, and merchandise. This meant that she was now the highest-paid woman in rock music.
In 1978 alone she made $12 million ($47.8 million today) and grossed over $60 million ($239.2 million today) in albums sales. According to friend and singer Bonnie Raitt, “She was like what Beyoncé is now.” By the end of the ’70s, she outsold all female artists and had five straight platinum albums.
She’s Ready For Broadway
After playing dozens of sold-out shows in concert arenas and racking up album sales in the millions, Ronstadt wanted a change of pace. In the summer of 1980, she began rehearsals for her first lead role in a Broadway musical. She was cast in a production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance.
Her paternal grandfather actually wrote an arrangement for the musical back in 1896. The majority of the reviews favored Ronstadt in the demanding role of Mabel and she went on to star in a film version of the musical with Kevin Kline and Angela Lansbury.
Revamping The Great American Songbook
In the early 1980s, Ronstadt and famous conductor Nelson Riddle set out to record the Great American Songbook in a new and exciting way. The songs are from the early 20th century and many popular artists such as Frank Sinatra, Joni Mitchell, and Bette Midler have tried their hand at them.
Critics warned her not to do it because they thought it would flop, she proved them wrong. What’s New spent 81 weeks on the Billboard Album Chart, went triple platinum, earned a Grammy nomination, got great reviews, and led to a worldwide concert tour.
The Trio Everyone Was Waiting For
In 1986, Ronstadt formed a country group with friends Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris. They wanted to collaborate in the late 1970s, but couldn’t figure out how to make it work. The three of them got back together and recorded an album called Trio.
It was considered a hit. Trio went on to the top spot on the Billboard Country Album chart, sold over three million copies, and won a Grammy. Their next album, Trio II, didn’t come until 1994, which included a masterful cover of Neil Young’s “After The Gold Rush.” Trio II became certified Gold (sold over 500,000 copies).
Ronstadt Tries Traditional Mexican Music
Since Ronstadt grew up with traditional Southwestern and Mexican music in her home, she was ready to release some of her own. In the late 1980s, she came out with Canciones de Mi Padre. It was an album of traditional Mexican folk and mariachi songs inspired by her father’s side of the family.
The album did very well and won a Grammy Award for Best Mexican-American Performance. Her work on the album was said to have started a Latin cultural craze in North America. A few years later, Ronstadt decided to give Afro-Cuban songs a try and ended up winning the Grammy Award for Best Traditional Tropical Latin Album.
Her Great Return To Contemporary Music
After she ventured into the jazz and mariachi genres, Ronstadt decided to return to the contemporary music scene. Her duet with James Ingram titled “Somewhere Out There” was a massive hit. The song is best known for being the theme of 1986’s An American Tail.
It did so well that it reached the second spot on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, won the Grammy for Song of the Year, was nominated for an Oscar and was loved by Steven Spielberg. Later, she released a few more contemporary albums and performed several of the songs with Aaron Neville.
The Highs And Lows Of Her Career
As the years went on, Ronstadt had to figure out how she was going to top her previous work. During the 1990s and 2000s she released several albums across multiple genres. Some did really well and earned her many awards, while others were commercial flops that didn’t even make it on the charts.
Ronstadt released her final studio album, Hummin’ to Myself, in 2004. It included a collection of songs accompanied by a small jazz ensemble. She noticed that as she got older her voice began to change.
The Gradual Change Of Her Voice
Ronstadt performed her final concert in 2009, which was the same year she received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Latin Recording Academy. A few years later she revealed that she had Parkinson’s Disease, which was later re-evaluated as progressive supranuclear palsy.
The disease is a gradual loss of function in the brain and it has severely altered her ability to sing. Ronstadt told AARP that she “can no longer sing a note.” She went on to tell CNN, “I just lost a lot of different colors of my voice. Singing is really complex and I was made most aware of it by having it banished. I can still sing in my mind, but I can’t do it physically.”
An Inspiring List Of Achievements
While Ronstadt has lost a lot of her vocal abilities, she has managed to earn some of the most prestigious honors over the course of her lifetime. She was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2014 and was selected as a Kennedy Center Honoree in 2019.
Ronstadt was called the “#1 Female Artist of the Decade” by Cashbox magazine in the 1970s and has two albums on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list. Also, she became the first female solo artist to have two Top 40 singles simultaneously on the Billboard Hot 100 list and was music’s first major touring female artist to sell out large venues.
She Values Her Personal Life
Although she was never married, Ronstadt has been linked to a few famous men such as Jim Carrey and George Lucas. She adopted a baby girl named Mary in 1990 and a baby boy named Carlos in 1994. Ronstadt never really felt at home in Southern California because of the superficial vibe.
She decided that San Francisco was more her pace, but raised her children in Tucson and goes back and forth between the two cities. Ronstadt earned an honorary doctorate of music degree from the Berklee College of Music in 2009 “for her achievements and influence in music and her contributions to American and international culture.”
Her Life Was Turned Into A Documentary
There is arguably no other singer who has experienced the same kind of success as Ronstadt. Since she can’t perform anymore, she released a documentary in 2019 called Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice. She details her life from her early years to what it’s like living with progressive supranuclear palsy.
Fans of Ronstadt can get an exclusive look with rarely seen footage of her best performances and what her life was like off the stage. The Hollywood Reporter wrote, “The film will make you fall in love with [Linda] all over again and will delight the singer’s old fans and likely make her new ones as well.”
She’ll Be Receiving A New Award
This isn’t the last that people will hear from Ronstadt. It was announced that she will be receiving the Legend Award at the 33rd Annual Hispanic Heritage Awards on October 6, which will air on PBS. Many Latin musicians will do a medley of her songs including The Mavericks, Carla Morrison, Joy Huerta, and Lupita Infante.
Other recipients of this award include Selena Gomez, Jessica Alba, and Bad Bunny. A source close to Ronstadt said, “Linda represents so many things to so many people and we’re proud to know that she carries her Mexican and Latino heritage as a source of inspiration.”