Linda Ronstadt has a career that spans across five decades, several genres, and countries — however she has remained relatively unknown to many until now. The documentary Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice by Academy Award nominees Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman seeks to change this.
Although her career started off as a folk singer, Ronstadt is one of the few people that has made substantial artistic contributions to several genres. As a young woman in the music industry, Ronstadt was often perceived as someone who was “just a singer who covered other people’s songs;” but she was – and continues to be – so much more.
After the Stone Poneys group broke up, Ronstadt released her own solo album entitled Hand Sown…Home Grown in March 1969. Not only was this her first solo album it was the first alternative country album to be released by a female recording artist. From there Ronstadt took on different genres like rock and light opera, but it was her Spanish speaking album that paid homage to her Mexican ancestry that really shocked audiences. Canciones de Mi Padre has 13 tracks ranging from love ballads to faster paced songs all sung in Spanish. This album went double platinum in sales.
In 2009, Ronstadt performed for the last time and in 2013 she revealed that she retired because of a Parkinson’s disease diagnosis that has left her unable to sing. During an interview with Sunday Morning on CBS, Ronstadt explained how she felt something was off with her voice long before her official diagnosis and that even when she is alone and tries to sing no sound comes out. “My vocal cords wont even make the repetition,” she said. However, time is a gift and so too is video and audio recording. With the recent discovery of audiotapes from a concert filmed for HBO in April 1980, her label Rhino Entertainment has released Live in Hollywood, a live recorded album. In a recent Rolling Stone interview Ronstadt recalls how unbearably hot the recording day was, but that the audience was extremely agreeable when they had to stop recording several times for safety reasons.
In both her CBS and Rolling Stone interviews you can feel her warm, determined, and humorous demeanor. She jokes about placing the National Medal of Arts she received from President Obama next to her crowbar because, “it [the award] was so big she didn’t know what to do with it.”
Throughout her career Ronstadt released 24 studio albums with 13 of them reaching at minimum a Silver certification for album sales and of those thirteen 11 of them reached platinum album sales level. In addition to releasing albums that broke record sales numbers, she earned 26 Grammy Nominations with 10 of them resulting in wins. In 2011, she received the Latin Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
These achievements are only a few in the long list of her accomplishments. Despite her successes, she often received less notoriety than the male counter parts in the genres within which she performed. One of her former male background singers went on to be a member of The Eagles rock band and received significantly more attention than her. When her Heart Like a Wheel album went number one she remembers, as quoted in a 1976 Rolling Stone piece “walk[ing] around apologizing every single day. I could see that my supposed friends resented me. I went around going, ‘I’m not that good of a singer…’ And I got so self-conscious that when I went onstage, I couldn’t sing at all. It almost made me go crazy.” Given the time of her fame (late sixties to early seventies) and her being a woman, she was “regarded as no more than a barefoot, braless, pleasant-sounding country-ballad singer.”
But she proved all those preconceptions and misconceptions wrong when she finally made into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2014 after decades of proving her worth as a woman artist. She says that it’s “nice to be acknowledged but if you’re doing the work for prizes you’re in big trouble. You do the work for the work.” Ronstadt’s contributions to music have left the landscape forever changed.
Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice premiered earlier this year in April at the Tribeca Film Festival to an eager audiences and finally allows Linda to share her truth.