Establishing her professional career in the mid-1960s at the forefront of California's emerging folk rock and country rock movements, genres which later defined post-60s rock music, Linda Ronstadt became the lead singer of a successful folk rock group, The Stone Poneys. Later, as a solo artist, she released Hand Sown ... Home Grown in 1969, considered the first alternative country record by a female recording artist. During these years as greater fame eluded her, Ronstadt actively toured with Jackson Browne, The Doors, Neil Young and others, made television show appearances, and began to contribute her voice to a variety of albums such as Carla Bley's jazz opera Escalator Over the Hill. However, with the successful release of chart-topping albums such as Heart Like A Wheel, Simple Dreams, and Living In The USA, coupled with the fact that Ronstadt became the first female "arena class" rock star, setting records as one of the top-grossing concert artists of the decade, Ronstadt became a star of the highest magnitude and the most successful female rock singer of her era. Recognized as the "First Lady of Rock" and the "Queen of Rock", Ronstadt was voted the Top Female Pop Singer of the 1970s. Her rock and roll image was equally as famous as her music, appearing six times on the cover of Rolling Stone, Newsweek and Time. In the early 1980s Ronstadt went to Broadway, garnered a Tony nomination, teamed with composer Phillip Glass, recorded traditional music, and collaborated with famed conductor Nelson Riddle, an event at that time viewed as an original and unorthodox move for a rock and roll artist. This venture paid off, and Ronstadt remained one of the best-selling vocalists throughout the 1980s with multi-platinum selling albums such as: What's New, Canciones de Mi Padre and Cry Like a Rainstorm, Howl Like the Wind. Ronstadt has continued to successfully tour, collaborate, and record celebrated albums, such as Winter Light, Hummin' to Myself, and Adieu False Heart. Ronstadt's thirty-plus album catalog continue to be best-sellers, with a majority of them certified gold, platinum and multiplatinum. Selling in excess of 100 million records worldwide and setting records as one of the top-grossing concert performers for over a decade, Linda Ronstadt was the most successful female rock singer of the '70s and one of the most successful female recording artists in U.S. history. A consummate American artist, Ronstadt opened many doors for women in rock and roll and in music by championing songwriters and musicians, pioneering her chart success onto the concert circuit, and being at the vanguard of many musical movements.
Ronstadt was raised along with her brothers Peter (who served as Tucson's chief of police from 1981-1992) and Michael and her sister Gretchen (Suzy), on the family's 10-acre ranch. The family was featured in Family Circle magazine in 1953.
Her father, Gilbert, came from a leading and pioneering Arizona ranching family and was of Mexican-American, with some German and English, ancestry that has contributed much to arts and culture in the American Southwest. So great are their contributions to Arizona that their history and influence, including wagon making, commerce, pharmacies and music, is chronicled in the library of the University of Arizona, Linda's alma mater. Her father's grandfather, Frederick Augustus Ronstadt (who went by the name Federico Augusto Ronstadt) immigrated to the West (then a part of Mexico) in the 1840s from Hanover, Germany, and married a Mexican citizen. The marriage resulted in several children, including Federico José María Ronstadt (Linda's grandfather), who eventually settled in Tucson.
Her mother, Ruthmary, who was the daughter of one of America's prominent patent making inventors, was of Anglo-American descent with German, English, and Dutch heritage. Ruthmary was the daughter of the prolific American inventor Lloyd Groff Copeman, and was raised in Michigan. Lloyd, with nearly 700 patents to his name, invented an early form of the toaster, many refrigerator devices, the grease gun, the first electric stove, and an early form of the microwave oven. His flexible rubber ice cube tray earned him millions of dollars in royalties. He once told his grandson that he could walk into any store or home and find one of his inventions.
In the early 1980s, Ronstadt was criticized by some (mainly rock critics) for playing two concerts, as a replacement for Frank Sinatra, in South Africa under apartheid, at a time when artists like Ray Charles, The Beach Boys, Tina Turner, Sinatra, Shirley Bassey and Cher were also performing there. Rolling Stone magazine covered the trip. The controversy eventually died out, and apartheid ended in 1991.
Ronstadt has been outspoken on environmental and community issues. Ronstadt is a major supporter and admirer of sustainable agriculture pioneer Wes Jackson, saying in 2000 that "the work he's doing right now is the most important work there is in the (United States)", and dedicating the rock anthem "Desperado" to him at an August 2007 concert in Kansas City, Kansas . In 2007 Ronstadt resided in the San Francisco area, while also maintaining her home in Tucson, Arizona. That same year she drew criticism and praise from Tucsonans for commenting that the local city council's failings, developers' strip mall mentality, greed and growing dust problem had rendered the city unrecognizable and poorly developed.
Accounts say the crowd's initial reaction was mixed, with "half the crowd heartily applauding her praise for Moore, (and) the other half booing". Following the concert, news accounts reported that Ronstadt was "evicted" from the hotel premises.
Ronstadt's comments, as well as the reactions of some audience members and the hotel, became a topic of discussion nationwide, as Timmons and Michael Moore all made public statements on the controversy. The incident prompted international headlines and debate on an entertainer's right to express a political opinion from the stage, and made the editorial section of the New York Times.
Following the incident, many friends of Ronstadt's, including The Eagles, immediately canceled their engagement at the Aladdin. Ronstadt also received immediate telegrams of support from her rock 'n' roll friends around the world, such as The Rolling Stones, The Eagles, and Elton John.
Amid reports of mixed public response, Ronstadt continued in her praise of Moore and his film throughout her 2004 and 2006 summer concerts across North America. At a 2006 concert in Canada, Ronstadt told the Calgary Sun that she was "embarrassed George Bush (was) from the United States.... He’s an idiot.... He’s enormously incompetent on both the domestic and international scenes.... Now the fact that we were lied to about the reasons for entering into war against Iraq and thousands of people have died — it’s just as immoral as racism." Her remarks drew international headlines.
In an August 14, 2007, interview she commented on all her well-publicized, outspoken views, in particular the Aladdin Theatre incident by noting, "If I had it to do over I would be much more gracious to everyone... you can be as outspoken as you want if you are very, very respectful. Show some grace".
Linda Ronstadt's early family life was filled with music and tradition, which influenced the stylistic and musical choices she later made in her career. Growing up, she listened to all types of music. Ronstadt has remarked that everything she has recorded on her own records — rock 'n' roll, jazz, rhythm and blues, gospel, opera, country, choral, and mariachi — is all music she heard her family sing in their living room, or heard played on the radio, by the age of 10. She credits her mother for her appreciation of Gilbert and Sullivan and her father for introducing her to the traditional pop music that she would, in turn, help reintroduce to an entire generation. Early on, her singing style had been influenced by singers such as Lola Beltran and Edith Piaf; she has called their singing and rhythms "more like Greek music...It's sort of like 6/8 time signature...very hard driving and very intense" She also drew influence from country singer Hank Williams. She has said that "all girl singers" eventually "have to curtsy to Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday". Of Maria Callas, Ronstadt says, "There's no one in her league. That's it. Period. I learn more...about singing rock n roll from listening to Maria Callas records than I ever would from listening to pop music for a month of Sundays...She's the greatest chick singer ever". She admires Callas for her musicianship and her attempts to push 20th-century singing, particularly opera, back into the Bel Canto "natural style of singing". A self-described product of American radio of the 1950s and '60s, she was a fan of its eclectic and diverse music programming.
At 14, Ronstadt formed a folk trio with brother Peter and sister Suzy. They billed themselves as "The New Union Ramblers", "The Union City Ramblers", and "The Three Ronstadts", and the trio played coffeehouses, fraternity houses, and other small venues. Their repertoire included the music they grew up on — folk, country, bluegrass, and Mexican. But increasingly, Ronstadt wanted to make a union of folk music and rock 'n' roll, and in 1964, at 17, she decided to move to Los Angeles.
The Stone Poneys were signed by Nik Venet to Capitol Records and recorded their first album, The Stone Poneys, in 1966 (released in January 1967). Ronstadt was the lead singer, although she performed only a handful of solos on the album. The Stone Poneys became a leading attraction on California's folk circuit, with Ronstadt usually performing on stage in a miniskirt and bare feet, and also acted as a supporting act for The Doors on tour. Doors frontman Jim Morrison didn't endear himself to Ronstadt, who recalled, "We thought they were a good band, but we didn't like the singer".
A second album, Evergreen, Volume 2, followed in June 1967. Its cover shows all three Stone Poney members clearly (the two male bandmembers were in the background on the first album cover). Evergreen was significant for the group's hit single "Different Drum", written by Monkees member Michael Nesmith, which reached No. 13 on the Billboard Hot 100.
The beginning of the end for the Stone Poneys occurred when their then-manager announced at The Troubadour one night, "Well, I can get your chick singer recorded, but I don't know about the rest of the group." Capitol Records released The Stone Poneys in January 1968, although Kenny Edwards recorded and toured with Ronstadt for many years thereafter.
A third album, consisting mostly of outtakes and other unreleased material, was issued in April 1968. Entitled Linda Ronstadt, Stone Poneys and Friends, Vol. III, its cover depicted only Ronstadt. The album, which included the single "Up To My Neck In High Muddy Water", stalled at No. 93.
Still contractually obligated to Capitol Records, Ronstadt released her first solo album, Hand Sown...Home Grown, in 1969. It is considered the first alternative country record by a female recording artist.
Ronstadt vocalized in some commercials during this period, including one for Remington electric razors, in which a multitracked Ronstadt and Frank Zappa said that the electric razor "cleans you, thrills you...may even keep you from getting busted".
Ronstadt's second solo album, Silk Purse, was released in March 1970. Her studio album recorded entirely in Nashville, it was produced by Elliot Mazer, whom Ronstadt picked on the advice of Janis Joplin, who had worked with him on her Cheap Thrills album. The Silk Purse album cover showed Ronstadt in a muddy pigpen, while the back and inside cover depicted her onstage wearing bright red. Ronstadt has stated that she wasn't pleased with the album, although it provided her with her first solo hit, the multi-format single "Long Long Time", and earned her her first Grammy nomination (for Best Contemporary Vocal Performance–Female).
Several years before Ronstadt became what author Gerri Hirshey called the first "arena-class rock diva", with "hugely anticipated tours", she began her solo career touring the North American concert circuit. Being on the road took its toll both emotionally and professionally. There were few solo "girl singers" on the country rock circuit at the time, and those that were, were relegated to "groupie level when in a crowd of a bunch of rock and roll guys"—a status Ronstadt avoided. Relating to men on a professional level as fellow musicians led to competition, insecurity, bad romances, and a series of boyfriend-managers. At the time, she admired singers like Maria Muldaur for not sacrificing their femininity but says she felt enormous self-imposed pressure to compete with "the boys" at every level She noted in a 1969 interview in Fusion magazine that it was difficult being a single "chick singer" with an all-male backup band. According to her, it was difficult to get a band of backing musicians because of their ego problem of being labeled sidemen for a female singer.
Soon after she went solo in the late 1960s, one of her first backing bands was the pioneering country-rock band Swampwater, famous for synthesizing Cajun and swamp-rock elements into their music. Its members included Cajun fiddler Gib Guilbeau and John Beland, who later joined The Flying Burrito Brothers, as well as Stan Pratt, Thad Maxwell and Eric White, brother of Clarence White of The Byrds. Swampwater went on to back Ronstadt during TV appearances on the The Johnny Cash Show and The Mike Douglas Show and at the Big Sur Folk Festival.
Another backing band featured players Don Henley, Glenn Frey, Bernie Leadon and Randy Meisner, who went on to form The Eagles. They toured with her for a short period in 1971 and played on Linda Ronstadt, her self-titled third album. At this stage, Ronstadt began working with producer and boyfriend John Boylan. She said, "As soon as I started working with John Boylan, I started co-producing myself. I was always a part of my productions. But I always needed a producer who would carry out my whims"
Ronstadt's professional relationship with Asher forced her to realize she had to take command and effectively delegate responsibilities. Asher was musically more on the same page with her than any producer she had worked with before, and he worked with her collaboratively. Although hesitant at first to work with her because she had a reputation for being a "woman of strong opinions (who) knew what she wanted to do (with her career)", he agreed nonetheless to become her producer, and their professional relationship continued through the late 1980s. He went on to produce and manage numerous other artists, such as Courtney Love and Pamela Anderson, but has stated that Linda Ronstadt remains his "favorite female singer of all time".
With the release of Don't Cry Now, Ronstadt took on her biggest gig to date, touring as the opening act for Neil Young's Time Fades Away tour. On this tour, she played for a larger crowd than ever before. Backstage at a concert in Texas, Chris Hillman introduced her to Emmylou Harris, telling them, "You two could be good friends". She and Harris did become friends, and collaborated frequently in the years that followed.
A coloratura soprano, Ronstadt is considered an “interpreter of her times”. Some have criticized her for a decision to interpret cover songs. A considerable number of her top hits in the 1970s were not original, in the sense that they had been recorded before. Meanwhile, history has praised her for her courage as an interpreter of many of these songs. However, she became a highly successful "Albums Artist" as well, with albums to her credit that contained original material, some of it written by her. Ronstadt was the first female artist in popular music history to accumulate four consecutive platinum albums (fourteen certified platinum to date). As for the singles, some have argued that the songs she covered were in need of exposure to a younger generation. Rolling Stone noted that a whole generation, "but for her, might never have heard the work of" artists such as Buddy Holly, Elvis Costello, and Chuck Berry". 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 ‘n’ roll music is part of her culture, she says that the songs she sang after her rock 'n' roll hits were part of her soul. "The (Mariachi music) was my father's side of the soul. 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 wrote 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".
By this stage of her career Ronstadt had established her niche in the field of country-rock. Along with other musicians such as The Flying Burrito Brothers, Emmylou Harris, Gram Parsons, Swampwater, Neil Young, and The Eagles, she helped free country music from stereotypes and showed rockers that country was OK. However, she stated that she was being pushed hard into singing more Rock & Roll.
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 No. 1 on the Billboard Album Chart (it was also the first of four No. 1 Country Albums for Ronstadt) and the disc was certified Double-Platinum (over 2 million copies sold). Ronstadt also developed a knack for picking good songs, finding obscure songs, and shining a light on up and coming songwriters. 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 artist. This skill would eventually serve her later in her career, as a noted master song interpreter.
Heart Like a Wheels first single release was "You're No Good," - a rootsy rockified version of a song written by Clint Ballard, Jr. - climbed to No. 1 on the Pop singles chart. The album's second single release was "When Will I Be Loved," - an uptempo country rock version of a song written by Phil Everly - climbed to the No. 2 on the Pop singles chart and the No. 1 slot on the Country singles chart
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 put her on the path as 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)" - originally recorded and written by Hank Williams - with Ronstadt interpretation, peaking at No. 2 on the Country charts. The album was nominated for Album of the Year.
Immediately, Rolling Stone magazine put her on its cover in March 1975, for the first time. The cover was the first of six Rolling Stone magazine covers and photographed by famed photographer Annie Leibovitz. It also included her as featured artist with a full photo layout and an article by Ben Fong-Torres, discussing her many struggling years in rock n roll, home life and what it meant to be a women on tour in a decidedly all-male environment.
Later this same year, 1975, her album Prisoner in Disguise was released. It climbed to No. 4 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 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.
In 1976 Ronstadt reached the Top 3 of Billboard's Album Chart and won her second career Grammy Award for Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female for her third consecutive platinum album Hasten Down the Wind. The album showcased Ronstadt the singer-songwriter, composing two songs, "Try Me Again" and "Lo Siento, Mi Vida". It also included interpretation of Willie Nelson's classic "Crazy", which became a Top 10 Country hit for Ronstadt in early 1977.
In late 1977 Ronstadt surpassed the success of Heart Like A Wheel with her album Simple Dreams, which held the No. 1 position for five consecutive weeks on the Billboard Album Chart. The album has been certified triple platinum (over 3 million US copies sold). The album was released in September 1977, and by December, it had replaced Fleetwood Mac's long running No. 1 album Rumours in the top spot. Simple Dreams spawned hit singles on both the pop and country singles charts as well. It included the RIAA platinum-certified single "Blue Bayou" - a Country Rock interpretation of a Roy Orbison written song - as well as "It's So Easy" previously sung by Buddy Holly - and "Poor Poor Pitiful Me" a song written for the album, 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 singers most successful international selling albums as well, reaching No. 1 on the Australian and Canadian pop and country album 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."
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" , especially for the most famous woman singer of the 1970s, 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 no less, 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. The Time magazine cover did not deter critics and they regarded it as affirming their claim that Ronstadt was her producer's puppet. It also encouraged them to belittle her music along with her image. Asher noted this irony, "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), whereas in a man they were perceived as being masterful and bold". As noted, 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. As evidence of how troublesome this cover was to her, Ronstadt later refused to acknowledge that she was reclining and insisted that she was "sitting down... looking stupid" .
It was in 1976 that Rolling Stone magazine published for its cover 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 had a third No. 1 album on the Billboard Album Chart, with Living In The USA. She achieved a major hit single with "Ooh Baby Baby", with her rendition hitting all four major singles charts (Pop, AC, Country and R&B). Another achievement, was her straightforward interpretation of a Warren Zevon penned song, "Mohammed's Radio," in which Godot turns out to be rock & roll and Mohammed's radio is the grail. 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 US copies.
Billboard Magazine crowned Linda Ronstadt with Four No.1 Awards for the Year: No.1 Pop Female Singles Artist of the Year; No.1 Pop Female Album Artist of the Year; No.1 Female Record Artist of the Year; and the No.1 Female Vocalist of the Year.
Living In The USA showed the singer on roller skates with a newly short haircut 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 illegally record and broadcast live, a Linda Ronstadt concert. The movie also showed Ronstadt in concert singing the hit song Tumbling Dice. Ronstadt was persuaded to record Tumbling Dice after Mick Jagger told her backstage after a 1976 concert of hers, that she sang too many ballads in concert. She appeared to heed the advice.
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".
As Rolling Stone magazine dubbed her "Rock's Venus", her record sales continued to multiply and setting 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 US copies sold). In 1980 Greatest Hits Volume II was released and certified platinum) (over 1 million copies sold).
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 benefit concert for her friend Lowell George, held at the The Forum, in Los Angeles, California.
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 prior by Frank Sinatra, and Ella Fitzgerald and later the Mexican folk songs of her childhood.
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. However, this endeavor wasn't, to Ronstadt, as far a left field endeavor as it might have appeared to Ronstadt's popular music audience. She recounts that singing Gilbert and Sullivan was a natural choice for her, since Grandfather Fred Ronstadt is credited with creating Tucson’s first orchestra, the Club Filarmonico Tucsonense and had once created an arrangement of Pirates of Penzance, likewise, her mother, Ruthmary Copeman Ronstadt, owned a large Gilbert and Sullivan collection.
The Pirates of Penzance revival turned out to be a major hit on Broadway. The musical opened for a limited engagement in New York City's Central Park and moved its production to Broadway where it ran 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".
A DVD of the Central Park production was released in October 2002, but there is no recording of the Broadway run which followed. The "Central Park" disc has somewhat mediocre videotaping and sound quality, both a result of the outdoor location. Ronstadt also 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. The two versions (stage and for-film) are distinguishable by cover art.
For her effort on Broadway, 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.
In 1984, Ronstadt had discovered La Boheme through the silent movie with Lillian Gish and was determined to play the part of Mimi. When she mentioned it to her friend, opera superstar Beverly Sills, she was told, "My dear...every soprano in the world wants to play Mimi!" Ronstadt was later cast in the role of Mimi at Joseph Papp's Public Theatre.
In 1988, Ronstadt returned to Broadway, for a limited run engagement in the musical show adaptation of her 1988 album of Mexican folk songs, Canciones de Mi Padre - "My Father's Songs".
After her stint on Broadway, Ronstadt went back to the studio to record more rock 'n' roll music. In 1982, Ronstadt released Get Closer a primarily rock album with some country and pop music as well. It is her only album from 1975 (Heart Like A Wheel) to 1990 (Cry Like A Rainstorm, Howl Like The Wind) that wasn't officially certified Platinum. It peaked at #31 on the Billboard Album Chart. In 1982, she continued her streak of Top 40 hits with "Get Closer", and "I Knew You When" - a 1965 hit by Billy Joe Royal, and the Jimmy Webb song "Easy For You To Say" which was a Top 10 AC hit. "Sometimes You Just Can't Win" was released to country radio, and made the top 30. The album earned Ronstadt two Grammy Award nominations for Best Rock Vocal Performance, Female as well as Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female. The album won its art director, Kosh his second Grammy Award for Best Album Package.
Along with the release of her Get Closer album, Ronstadt also embarked on a very successful North American tour, remaining one of the top rock concert draws that summer and fall. One famous concert was her November 25, 1982 Happy Thanksgiving Day concert held at Dallas, Texas's Reunion Arena and broadcast live via satellite on radio stations across the United States.
Ronstadt eventually became tired of playing arenas. She didn't feel that arenas, where people milled around lighting joints and buying beer, were "approriate places for music". She wanted "angels in the architecture" - a reference to a lyric in the Paul Simon song You Can Call Me Al. Likewise, she has noted that she wanted to sing in places similar to the Theatre of ancient Greece, where the attention is focused on the stage and performer.
Ronstadt's recording career in the 1980s proved to be just as commercially and critically successful as her 1970's recordings. Between 1983 and 1990 Ronstadt scored six additional platinum albums: two of which have been certified triple platinum (each with over 3 million US copies sold); one which as been certified double platinum (over two million copies sold); and one Gold (over 500,000 US copies sold) double disc album.
In 1981, Linda Ronstadt produced and recorded a Demo album later called Keeping Out of Mischief with the help of producer Jerry Wexler. Although never formally released, the music and idea of recording these genre of songs, seduced her enough, and she told Downbeat Magazine in April 1985, that "Wexler deserves a lot of the credit for not only encouraging me, but getting me into this sort of music". Nonetheless, Ronstadt had to encourage her record company, Elektra Records, to greenlight these albums under their label and her contract.
In 1983, a then 37-year old, enlisted the help of the then 62-year-old grand master of pop orchestration conductor Nelson Riddle and the two embarked on an unorthodox and original approach in rehabilitating the Great American Songbook recording the first of what would be a trilogy of highly successful traditional pop albums: What's New (1983); Lush Life (1985); and For Sentimental Reasons (1986). The three have a combined sales of over 8 million copies sold in the U.S. alone.
The album design for What's New by designer Kosh was unlike any of her previous disc covers. But in keeping with the themes of her other discs it was bold, colorful and memorable. The cover seemed to playfully suggest what's new? It showed Ronstadt in a vintage dress lying on shimmering satin sheets with a Walkman headset. At the time, Ronstadt received a lot of ridicule for both the album cover and her venture into what was then considered "elevator music" by cynics. In a 1984 Saturday Night Live sketch, comedienne Julia Louis-Dreyfus parodied Ronstadt by dressing and posing in a copy of the What's New cover while the title track played in the background,and Louis-Dreyfus singing "I sing old songs for you, ‘Cause I can’t do what’s new!", referring to the fact that these 1920's and 30's written songs that Ronstadt chose and elected to perform were too old to cover, un-hip, not rock 'n' roll and therefore, unmarketable.
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.
Ronstadt 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 climbed to the No. 3 position (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 US copies sold). The album earned Ronstadt another Grammy nomination for Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female and critical raves, with Time Magazine calling it "one of the gutsiest, most unorthodox and unexpected albums of the year".
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 teen-agers 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 2004, Ronstadt released Hummin' to Myself, her first and ironically her only 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 a smaller jazz combo. The album was a quieter affair for Ronstadt, receiving few interviews and only one television performance as promotion. The album debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard Top Jazz Albums Chart, and not having the mass distribution Warner Music gave her, Hummin' To Myself eventually sold close to 75,000 copies in the US which is quite successful for a small record label like Verve Records and it did achieve critical acclaim from the jazz cognoscenti.
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 first had conceived of ten years earlier, was released in February 1987. It was a considerable hit, holding the No. 1 position on Billboard's Country Albums chart for five weeks running and hitting the Top 10 on the Pop side also. Selling two million 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 No. 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 attempted to record, a follow-up to Trio with Ronstadt and George Massenburg serving as producers. 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 owing her record company a finished album, removed, per Parton's request, Dolly's individual tracks, kept Emmylou Harris' vocals on, and produced a number of the recordings which she subsequently put on her 1995 Feels Like Home cd.
However, in 1999, Ronstadt, Parton and Harris agreed to release the Trio 2 album, as was originally recorded in 1994. Again, with Ronstadt and Massenburg producing. It included a 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 both received a Grammy Nomination for Best Country 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 - "My Father's Songs". Keeping with the Ronstadt 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 was Linda Ronstadt's aunt and an international singer in the 1920s. Ms. Espinel's father was Fred Ronstadt (Linda Ronstadt'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 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 co-wrote, a Traditional Mexican folk ballad, along with her father, 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 Beltran 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 US copies sold) certification - making it the biggest-selling non-English language album in US music history. Another achievement is that the album and later theatrical stage show, served as a benchmark of Latin cultural renaissance in North America.
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 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.
She recorded two additional discs of Latin music in the early 1990s. Although their promotion, like all her albums in the 1990s, was a quieter affair for Ronstadt, where she appeared to do the "bare minimum" to promote. They were not as successful in terms of sales as Canciones De Mi Padre, but were critically acclaimed. The first one she recorded was Mas Canciones, a follow up to the first Canciones. For this effort she won a Grammy award for Best Mexican/Mexican-American Album. The same year she stepped outside of Mariachi genre and decided to record well known "afro-Cuban" songs. This disc was titled Frenesi. Like her second Latin recording venture, this third Latin album won Ronstadt another Grammy award, this time for Best Traditional Tropical Latin Album.
In 1991, Ronstadt participated in La Pastorela, a musical filmed at San Juan Bautista. It was written and directed by Luis Valdez. from Canciones de Mi Padre fame, and like Canciones, the production was part of the PBS "Great Performances" series. It currently exists on VHS format but has not been released on DVD.
Still enjoying the success of her traditional pop collaborations with Nelson Riddle and the sleeper hit success of her Mariachi recordings, by the late 1980s Linda Ronstadt elected to record mainstream pop music once again, a decision that ended up producing a couple of hit singles and one highly successful pop album titled Cry Like a Rainstorm, Howl Like the Wind. (1989) Of the album, Amazon.com wrote that Ronstadt recorded "an album that defines virtually everything that is right about adult contemporary pop." .
Beginning in 1987, Ronstadt made a return to the top of Billboard Hot 100 singles charts with "Somewhere Out There", which peaked at No. 2 on 14 March 1987 - being a sentimental duet with James Ingram and featured in the animated film An American Tail. The song was nominated for several Grammy Awards, eventually winning the Song Of The Year category. It also received an Academy Award nomination for Motion Picture song and achieved high sales, earning a million-selling Gold single in the US - one of the last 45s ever to do so. On the heels of this success, Steven Spielberg asked Ronstadt again to record the title song, for the sequel to An Americal Tail, titled An American Tail: Fievel Goes West. The song she recorded was "Dreams To Dream". Although it failed to achieve the same success as its predecessor, the song did give Ronstadt an Adult Contemporary hit in 1991.
Ronstadt made a full return to the mainstream pop charts in 1989, releasing both an album and several popular singles. This effort titled Cry Like a Rainstorm, Howl Like the Wind became one of the singers all-time biggest albums, in terms of production, arrangements, chart sales, and critical acclaim. The album returned Ronstadt, as a solo artist, back to the Top 10 of the Billboard Album Chart, reaching the #7 position and being certified triple-platinum (over 3 million US copies sold). The album also received critical acclaim, being nominated for numerous Grammy awards. She even featured American soul singer Aaron Neville on four 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 No. 2 hit - Christmas 1989) and "All My Life" (Billboard Hot 100 #11 hit), both long-running No. 1 Adult Contemporary hits. These duets with singer Aaron Neville received much critical acclaim, garnering several Grammy nominations and won both 1989's and 1990's Best Pop Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal award, shared with Aaron Neville. Her last live Grammy Award appearance was in February 1990 when she and Neville performed the song for the public for the first time since it became a hit the previous year.
In December 1990, Linda Ronstadt participated in a concert to commemorate John Lennon's 50th birthday, and to raise awareness of environmental issues, held in Tokyo at the Tokyo Dome. 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. 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 following year Ronstadt produced Dedicated to the One I Love, an album of rock 'n roll songs reinvented as children's music. This effort won her and longtime collaborator, recording engineer George Massenburg, Grammys for Best Album for Children.
Recent Ronstadt albums have been much quieter promotional affairs for Ronstadt, receiving few interviews - mostly print interviews, and only one or two television performances on selective shows as promotion. During this period, Ronstadt raised her two children, and she only agreed to do the "bare minimum" to promote her albums.
In 1998 Ronstadt recorded We Ran. The disc has a non-dramatic photo, unlike previous covers that over the years had won three Grammy Awards for artist Kosh. Although inside the disc, the music harkens 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 disc was produced by Glyn Johns. The album is one of Ronstadt's few albums to not hit the Top 100 on the Billboard album chart. We Ran also did not chart any hit singles on either the Pop or Adult Contemporary charts. The album however was well received by critics. Her vocal performance on the track "Cry 'till My Tears Run Dry" is particularly worthy of note, and demonstrated how much her voice had grown, since her early, somewhat raw, country music performances.
Despite the limited success of We Ran, Ronstadt kept towards this adult rock exploration. She released Western Wall — The Tucson Sessions (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 and the Top 100 of the Billboard album charts, debuting at No. 73. They had a modest alternative rock hit with Sweet Spot, a song that was written with and recorded with Jill Cunniff of Lucious Jackson.
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 "The 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.
On November 16, 1999 Elektra/Wea released The Linda Ronstadt Box Set. The Box Set includes a total of four discs arranged thematically rather than chronologically with five hours of eighty-six songs that highlight Ronstadt’s eclectic career. There are two CDs that essentially serve as best-of sets. Disc three consists of duets with the likes of Emmylou Harris, Dolly Parton, Aaron Neville, and Frank Sinatra. Disc four offers rarities, including her contributions to Randy Newman's Faust and a contribution to Carla Bley's jazz opera Escalator Over the Hill and songs off 1978's Living in the USA and 1980's Mad Love period that didn’t make it onto the albums. In addition, some live contributions including "All I Have To Do Is Dream" with Kermit the Frog.
In 2000, Linda Ronstadt completed her long contractual relationship with Elektra/Asylum which had now become part of the Warner Music Group. The fulfillment of this contract was the release of A Merry Little Christmas, her first holiday collection, which included rare choral works, the song "River" by Joni Mitchell, and a rare recorded duet with Rosemary Clooney on her signature song, White Christmas. Since leaving Warner Music, Ronstadt has gone on to work under the Verve and Vanguard Record labels. In 2006, recording as the ZoZo Sisters, Ronstadt teamed with longtime friend, musician and musical scholar Ann Savoy to record Adieu False Heart, an album of roots music incorporating pop, cajun, and early 20th century music on the Vanguard Records label. The album was released to an international market, and has different covers, one showing artistic farm art and the other prominently showing Ronstadt and Savoy (international cover) - primarily in Australia and Japan.
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. On the heels of Adieu False Hearts critical success, commencing 2007, Ronstadt has been in the studio with Ann Savoy recording a follow-up album.
In 2007 a UK compilation album was released, combining Linda Ronstadt Greatest Hits I & II on one disc. And in June 2007, Ronstadt could be heard on the compilation LP "We All Love Ella: Celebrating The First Lady Of Song" on the track "Miss Otis Regrets.
Recently, Ronstadt has been honored for her contribution to the American arts. On September 23, 2007, Ronstadt, was inducted into the Arizona Music & Entertainment Hall of Fame. Among other inductees were Stevie Nicks, Buck Owens and filmmaker Steven Spielberg. On August 17, 2008 Ronstadt received a tribute by various artist including, BeBe Winans and Wynonna Judd, when she was honored with the Trailblazer Award, presented to her by Placido Domingo at the 2008 ALMA Awards, a ceremony later televised on ABC in the U.S.A.
1 "Best Musical Album for Children" Grammy - Linda Ronstadt is not recognised by the Grammy Awards as being a recipient of this particular Grammy, although she participated in the production. Therefore, the Grammy Award site shows Ronstadt the recipient of only 10 Awards, and 17 nominations. However, The official Grammy Awards site also shows Ronstadt as a recipient for the Grammy winning Musical Album for Children.