Linda Ronstadt and Legacy
Word has come that Linda Ronstadt is no longer able to sing. She has Parkinson’s disease. That’s an illness which weakens muscles, including those of the vocal cords. Ronstadt did not know her diagnosis as she was writing her book Simple Dreams: A Musical Memoir, so you’ll not find discussion of her health there. What you will find is a bit of the history of a gifted singer who always sought out narrative and story in the music she chose, and a woman who followed that interest through folk, rock, pop, country, big band, Cajun music, and songs honoring her Mexican American heritage.
Though she’s certainly been an icon of pop and rock music, I tend to think of Linda Ronstadt as a country artist. Her early album Silk Purse is filled with work that fits a country playlist, including He Darked the Sun (which would work for blues aficionados too) and Life Is Like a Mountain Railway.
All through her career, you’ll find nuggets of stories well told, stories that last beyond the fashions of arrangement and style, such as the songs Heart Like a Wheel and Adios. Then there are her turns to Spanish language songs, and her collaborations with musical friends Emmylou Harris and Dolly Parton on the Trio albums. To my mind the best of them all, though, is Ronstadt’s work with Harris on Western Wall: The Tucson Sessions.
I had the chance to see Harris and Ronstadt several times as they toured behind Western Wall. The first of those was at the historic Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Tennessee. It was a beautiful night, filled with anticipation and lively appreciation from an audience of people who worked on stage and behind the scenes in music as well as those who had nothing to do with that, but were there because of their love for the voices and stories of these two fine musicians.
In addition to songs from Western Wall, each woman sang several of her own solo hits as well. One of Ronstadt’s choices was Blue Bayou. She had the audience with her from the first notes, and she paused just a beat before heading into the final verse -- which she sang in Spanish. Between Ronstadt’s singing and the roar of appreciation and love from the crowd, it seemed as though the roof might just lift off that historic building.
I am sad that Ronstadt is facing this challenging situation. I am confident, though, that Linda Ronstadt remains an artist, a thinker, an activist and a dreamer who will continue to make her contributions. I had the chance to interview Ronstadt as she was preparing for the Western Wall tour. At that time she spoke of an idea that has stayed with me: that she was happy to have climbed far enough up the mountain of life to be able to look both forward and back.
May it ever be so, Linda.
There’s a drumbeat now that Linda Ronstadt should be named to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I agree. I’d suggest that she should be honored by the Country Music Hall of Fame too.
you may also wish to see
Ronstadt speaks about her health and her memoir with Sam Tanenhaus of the New York Times
Tish Hinojosa is one of the artists who felt the influence of Ronstadt. Later Ronstadt recorded one of Hinojosa's songs
Emmylou Harris: Songbird: disc two