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Ronstadt, Linda (15th July 1946-Present)

Linda Ronstadt is one of the most versatile recording artists in the history of music.  She was also the first successful female solo act in the history of rock and roll.

Her beginnings were humble enough, if you consider having a father who invented the electric stove humble.  Her musical roots were humbler still.  She started out like many artists singing with her family but moved to Los Angeles when she was 17 and soon thereafter formed a trio called The Stone Poneys with friends Kenny Edwards and Bobby Kimmel.  They were regulars on the ’60s California folk scene and toured with The Doors but their albums didn’t do much except yield the Michael Nesmith-penned hit “Different Drum”.  By the time their last album was released, they had already disbanded.

Ronstadt stayed close to her folksy roots by recording country music, reflected in the title of her first solo album, Home Sown…Home Grown in 1969.  It was Silk Purse, released a year later, that yielded her first solo hit “Long Long Gone” and first of twenty-seven Grammy nominations.  Good help was hard to find in the early ’70s if you were the only successful female solo artist on the rock tour and were looking for a backup band.  An up-and-coming foursome of musicians named Glenn Frey, Don Henley, Bernie Laudon and Randy Meiser didn’t mind, though, and they backed her on her self-titled third release and went on to become The Eagles.

Peter Asher was good company too if you were looking for a producer and his collaboration with Linda would span about a decade-and-a-half.  Their first hit together was “Silver Threads and Golden Needles” in 1974.  Opening for Neil Young wasn’t half-bad either, especially when you got to meet Emmylou Harris backstage at one of his concerts.  It was a meeting that would prove lucrative.

It was her fifth solo album, Heart Like A Wheel (1975) that put her over the top, reaching #1 on the Billboard chart and going double-platinum.  ” You’re No Good” went to #1 on the pop chart.  ” When Will I Be Loved” went to #1 on the country chart.  ” I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still In Love With You)” won a Grammy for Best Country Vocal Performance by a Female.  Prisoner in Disguise reached #4 the following year and produced pop and country hits with “Heat Wave” and “Love is a Rose”, respectively.

Hasten Down the Wind became her third platinum album in a row and won a Grammy for Best Pop Vocal Performance by a Female.  “Blue Bayou”, “It’s So Easy” and “Poor Poor Pitiful Me” all charted.  As if things couldn’t get any less pitiful, Linda was asked to sing “The Star-Spangled Banner” at the opening game of the 1976 World Series at Dodger Stadium.  It was not the last stadium-filled audience she would serenade.

Simple Dreams simply went triple platinum in 1977 and Living in the USA went double-platinum in sales of advanced copies alone, reaching #1 on the Billboard album chart.

By the end of the ’70s, she had become the first female singer ever to have recorded five straight platinum albums.  She was also dating Governor Jerry Brown of California who was close to running for President.  At one point, she was engaged to Star Wars director George Lucas.

In 1980 she joined Elvis Costello in a different kind of partnership, along with The Cretones and Mark Goldenberg, a good old-fashioned rock and roll album called Mad Love that entered the chart at #5 (at that time, a record).  Broadway, naturally, followed.  From 8th January 1981 to 28th November 1982, Linda co-starred with Kevin Kline in the Broadway production of Gilbert & Sulllivan’s The Pirates of Penzance.  She was nominated for a Tony award, as well as a Golden Globe award for the movie version which came out a year later.

In the meantime, she had cut another rock album, Get Closer, which went to #31 and yielded three hits, including the title track.  In 1983, in spite of advice to the contrary, she embarked on what was to become a three-album boxed set of pop standards with Nelson Riddle and His Orchestra:  What’s NewLush Life, and For Sentimental Reasons.  Oh, yeah, and somewhere in there she managed to cram an opera in as well, playing Mimi in La Boheme.

It was back to the country in 1987 when Ronstadt paired with Emmylou Harris and Dolly Parton on Trio, an idea for an album that had been in the works for about ten years.  (Imagine the scheduling conflicts.)  It was worth the wait:  Trio topped the country chart, managed the top ten on the pop chart (no small feat in ’87) and won a Grammy for Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals.  The same year, a duet with James Ingram titled “Somewhere Out There” (the theme from the animated film An American Tail) went to #2.

The time was ripe to cut a Mexican album.  Linda’s aunt had collected a bunch of Mexican songs that her father (Linda’s grandfather) had preserved on paper.  The aptly titled Canciones de mi Padre sold over two million copies and won Ronstadt a Grammy in yet another category, Best Mexican-American Peformance.  A televised stage show of the same name would win her an Emmy.

In 1990, as her star was clearly beginning to fizzle, Ronstadt released Cry Like A Rainstorm, Howl Like The Wind, an album that featured two duets with Aaron Neville that both went to #1 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart, “Don’t Know Much” and “All My Life”.  The latter, as well as the album won Grammys for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group.  Later that year, Ronstadt appeared with other assorted superstars to commemorate what would have been John Lennon’s 50th birthday and to raise awareness of an issue near to John’s heart:  The environment.

Two years later, two more Grammys in two more categories:  Best Mexican/Mexican American Album (Ma Canciones) and Best Traditional Tropical Latin Album (Frenesi).  Did you know there is a Grammy for Best Album for Children?  Well, there is and Linda won that in 1996 in collaboration with recording engineer George Massenburg on an album of rock songs recorded as lullabies entitled Dedicated to the One I Love.

She returned to her roots with Winter LightFeels Like HomeWe RanWestern Wall:  The Tucson Sessions (with Harris) and the second Trio album, which also won a Grammy, this time for Best Country Collaboration.

Linda Ronstadt was the top-selling female pop singer of the ’70s, released a total of eight consecutive platinum albums, won eleven Grammys, and charted with at least one single or album every year from 1970 to 2000.  Her latest project is with Cajun artist Ann Savoy.  Is there a Grammy Award for Best Cajun Performance by a Duo or Group?

Linda Ronstadt recordings
Back in the U.S.A. (Chuck Berry)
Get Closer (Jonathan Carroll)
Asylum (7-69948-A)
I Never Will Marry (Fred Hellerman)
Sometimes You Just Can’t Win (Smokey Stover)
Somewhere Out There (James Horner/Barry Mann/Cynthia Weil)