Rock, country, folk, mariachi, opera, bluegrass, jazz; Linda Ronstadt loved to sing them all. She pursued her singing passions, even when her record labels discouraged her from orbiting in additional genres. Linda possesses talent, good sense, and great taste, and most of her albums turned platinum. She’s sold over 100 million records.
Linda Ronstadt was born in 1946 in Tucson, Arizona. Her great-grandfather Friedrich August Ronstadt emigrated from Germany to Mexico and married Margarita Redondo. Her grandfather Federico José María Ronstadt from Sonora Mexico emigrated to Tucson in the 1880’s and started F. Ronstadt’s Hardware Store and bought a ranch. Linda’s father Gilbert continued the businesses. Evenings and weekends, he’d take out his guitar and play Mexican ballads with his four children. Her father also would play records of flamenco singer Pastora Pavón. Linda’s mother played Gilbert and Sullivan songs on the piano while her sister sang along. Their home radio captured broadcasts of rancheras from Mexico by Lola Beltrán. At her paternal grandparents’ house, they played opera records on a Victrola. Grandpa would play the piano and one of his sisters would sing the arias. As a child, Linda sang with her brothers and sister in family gatherings and at pachangas (picnic get-togethers) with family friends.
In her autobiography, Simple Dreams: A Musical Memoir, Ronstadt talks about when she was about four sitting at the piano with her siblings. Her older sister made a comment that Linda was a soprano and Linda had a profound realization.
“I’m a singer, that’s what I do…I was so pleased to know that that was what I was in life: I was a soprano.”
That day she decided her vocation. In her teens, Linda formed a folk trio with her brother and sister that played clubs in Tucson. She studied one year of college, then moved West to Los Angeles to seek more plentiful music opportunities. After enjoying time in her first band, the Stone Poneys, she went on to a successful solo career. Early on Ronstadt toured as an opening artist for Neil Young, and for the Doors
One of her favorite pastimes was informal jam sessions with musicians she admired. Those cemented friendships often led to recordings. The list of her noted collaborators reads like a Who’s Who in the history of US music of her generation. She did duets and trios in English with: Emmylou Harris and Dolly Parton; Keith Richards and Chuck Barry; Kevin Kline and Rex Smith; Randy Newman and Ry Cooder; Aaron Neville, Paul Simon, Johnny Cash, Don Henley, James Taylor, Bette Midler, Frank Sinatra, Neil Young, Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt, Brian Wilson, and Ann Savoy, to name a few.
Ronstadt’s backup band in the early 1970s became the founding members of the Eagles. From 1974 on, Ronstadt was a superstar with songs like “When Will I Be Loved,” “Long Long Time,” “You’re No Good,” and “Blue Bayou.” She was the first woman singer to perform in large sports arenas. According to her memoir, she would have rather played clubs because arenas strangle the sound, but her audiences were that numerous. Ronstadt was not a songwriter but she could sing the heck out of any material put in front of her. Linda was known as the Queen of Rock or First Lady of Rock. What’s your favorite song that she sang? My favorite in English is “You’re No Good.”
Ronstadt did not get complacent in one genre. She continually looked for ways to stretch her voice and learn more about music. Linda was one of the founders of country rock along with the Eagles. In 1980, although her record label wanted her to produce another smash hit album, she chose instead to sing in Pirates of Penzance in Central Park, NYC with Kevin Kline and Rex Smith. This Gilbert and Sullivan also had a run on Broadway and on film. Later, she sang the part of Mimi in La Boheme. Her next itch was to sing jazz standards. In her next transformation, Ronstadt celebrated her Mexican heritage. She released three albums of songs in Spanish. She sang with Mariachi Vargas, Mariachi Los Camperos and Mariachi Los Galleros de Pedro Rey, considered the three best mariachi bands in the world. Her brother Michael Ronstadt sang with her on the Canciones de mi Padre and Más canciones albums (Más also includes her brother Peter!) My favorite of these songs is Los Laureles.
Despite forty-five years of incredible success, Linda is humble about her achievements and the first to point out flaws in her work. The accolades of her 45-year career were 11 Grammy Awards (Country, Pop, Tejano, Latin), three American Music Awards, two Academy of Country Music awards, an Emmy Award for her television performance of Canciones de mi Padre, an American Latino Media Arts Trailblazer award, a Golden Globe award, and a Latin Recording Academy Lifetime Award. Her Canciones de mi Padre was the most purchased non-English album in US history selling 10 million copies around the world. Her three Spanish-language albums are beautiful tributes to her father and to Mexican-American traditions.
Sadly, Ronstadt retired from music in 2013 when Parkinson’s took away her singing capability. She was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2014. President Obama gave her the National Medal of Arts and Humanities in 2014. A new documentary about her life, Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice, showed at the Tribeca Film Festival in early 2019. I look forward to its general release!
Linda Ronstadt was more than a pretty face or a gorgeous voice. She was a vibrant performer who shaped the musical landscape with her exploration, cross-pollination and dedication to cultural preservation. ¡Viva Linda Ronstadt!
Gracias for reading Fake Flamenco! Olé! –Rebecca