Early life and career
Singer-songwriter Linda Ronstadt’s ability to bridge many musical styles that even extend to Mexican/Latin and Cajun music reflects her unique personal style. She is also an actress, record producer and a political activist.
Linda Maria Ronstadt was born on July 15, 1946 in Tucson Arizona. She then moved to California along with Bob Kimmel, who she met while they were attending university. That was where she attempted to establish her own musical career, and had witnessed the bourgeoning folk boom and country music scene.
Kimmel, who was a guitarist, formed a band with Ronstadt and another guitarist Kenny Edwards. The trio called themselves The Stone Poneys and they came to the forefront of the California’s booming folk scene. In 1967, they scored a hit single with “Different Drum” (from their second album Evergreen Vol. 2), which peaked at #13 on the pop chart. The following year, Ronstadt decided to strike out on her own and later signed to Capitol Records
She released her debut album, Hand Sown…Home Grown in 1969. It significantly veered away from her previous group’s folksy rock tendencies, opting instead toward country. Her second LP Silk Purse (1970) was more traditionally country. In 1972, she released her third self-titled album which featured several session musicians, and many of them — Glenn Frey, Don Henley, Randy Meisner and Bernie Leadon — would form the Eagles.
Ronstadt began to sing many songs written by other singer-songwriters such as Jackson Browne, Neil Young and Eric Anderson. She also began collaborations with Peter Asher (formerly of Peter and Gordon) who produced two of her songs in her fourth album Don’t Cry Now (1973), “Sail Away” and “I Believe In You.”Don’t Cry Now became Ronstadt’s first gold-certified album.
Ronstadt would achieve her first significant success through her fifth album Heart Like A Wheel, released in 1974. The single, “You’re No Good,” rose to the #1 spot on the Hot 100. It was her first and only chart-topping song. “You’re No Good,” which was written by Clint Ballard Jr. and was first sung in 1963 by Betty Everrett, has become one of Ronstadt’s classic songs.
Another hit coming from Heart like a Wheel was “When Will I Be Loved,” which reached #2 on the Hot 100.
“You’re No Good” spurred its album Heart like a Wheel to a #1 chart position and a double-platinum certification. Ronstadt’s follow-up LP Prisoner in Disguise (1975) was just as successful, spawning hit singles “Heat Wave,” “Love Is A Rose” (at #5) and “Tracks Of My Tears” (at #25). Prisoner in Disguise also became a platinum seller.
The follow up Hasten Down the Wind (1976) was also a Top 10 smash and a platinum seller, spurred by the singles such as her cover of Buddy Holly and the Cricket’s “That’ll Be The Day” (at #11) and her cover of Patsy Cline’s “Crazy” (#6, country). She ended 1976 with a compilation album Greatest Hits — it became her most successful album overall, selling over seven million copies in the US alone.
Ronstadt’s 1977 album Simple Dreams became her most successful studio album to date, staying on top of the Billboard 200 for five straight weeks, and sold more than three million copies in the US. It produced the hit “Blue Bayou,” her more popular rendition of the Roy Orbison hit. It peaked at #3 on the Hot 100 chart, while the Warren Zevon-penned “Poor, Poor Pitiful Me” reached the Top 40.
Towards the end of the 70s music era Ronstadt explored the other current genres, most especially pop and new wave. 1978’s Living in the USA became another chart-topper, yielding the #7 hit “Ooh Baby Baby,” which is now another oldies music classic.
At the dawn of the 1980s, Ronstadt released Mad Love which became another platinum-seller, thanks to the two top 10 hits “How Do I Make You” and “Hurt So Bad,” and the Top 40 single “I Can’t Let Go.” 1982’s Get Closer failed to go platinum for the first time since Heart Like a Wheel, and it signaled that she needed to tread a new career paths.
And Ronstadt did so by starring in the Broadway show The Pirates of Penzance, which garnered a Tony nomination. She also was able to collaborate with classical composer Philip Glass and Nelson Riddle, and recorded traditional music.
In 1986, she returned to making conventional pop, recording the hit duet with James Ingram “Somewhere Out There” (at #2), which was the theme song of the animated motion picture An American Tail. The song won a Grammy Award for Song of The Year. In 1987, she teamed up with fellow country belles Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris for the commercially successful LP Trio in 1987 (it spurred a sequel LP Trio II 12 years later).
As a part of her versatility and as well as recognizing her Mexican heritage, Ronstadt recorded the Spanish-language album Canciones de Mi Padre (“Songs of My Father”), which found her performing in the traditional Latin/Mexican/Mariachi music genre. Released in late 1987, Canciones de Mi Padre was a surprise hit, selling over two million copies. She returned to contemporary pop once more with 1989’s Cry like a Rainstorm, Howl Like The Wind, which became a triple platinum seller. The album’s success rested on her yet another successful duet with Aaron Neville with one of tracks, “Don’t Know Much.” The single went to #2 on both the US Billboard Hot 100 and UK singles charts and topped the adult contemporary chart that year.
Ronstadt released two more Spanish-language/Mexican albums Mas Canciones (1991) and Frenesi (1992), both of which were big hits on the US Billboard Latin chart. She continued to release subsequent records such as Winter Light (1993),Feels Like Home (1995), Dedicated To The One I Love (1996), We Ran (1998), and Hummin’ To Myself (2004), which went to #2 on the jazz album chart. Ronstadt continued to make music until recently, when she publicly revealed that she had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease which left her unable to sing and perform any longer.
Linda Ronstadt is one of the most commercially successful female singers in the 1970s. Artistically she can meld into any genre yet her individual style still stands out. She has worked with many artists with diverse musical backgrounds.
Ronstadt has sold over 100 million records worldwide, and has won many awards and nominations. In the summer of 2013 she released her autobiography Simple Dreams: A Musical Memoir, and later she was nominated for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction the following year.