Linda Ronstadt [1946- ]
Linda Ronstadt, once hailed as the “First Lady of Rock,” is a versatile singer who traversed multiple genres en route to massive national success in pop music in the 1970s and ‘80s. Ronstadt was nurtured by her Mexican American family whose musical roots run deep in the Mexican border region of Tucson, Arizona. Ronstadt holds dear the memory of childhood serenades by “The Father of Chicano Rock,” Lalo Guerrero, a close family friend. Ronstadt’s great-aunt Luisa Espinel gained international popularity interpreting Spanish and Mexican song and dance in the 1930’s.
Among the most popular female pop singers, Ronstadt is one of the most influential Chicana musicians ever, as evident in her extensive discography and four-decades long career. Ronstadt moved to L.A. in the late ‘60s with the folk trio The Stone Poneys, earning a Top 20 hit with the song, “Different Drum.” Turning to country-rock, Ronstadt began an illustrious solo career, recording three albums from 1969 to 1971. In 1974, Heart Like a Wheel propelled Ronstadt to national stardom. With signature versions of country-rock and folk-rock songs, the album went double-platinum, reaching number one on the charts. Prisoner in Disguise (1975) and Hasten Down the Wind (1976) both went platinum. In 1977 she released, Simple Dreams, which held the number one spot for five weeks. Soon after came another number one album, the more experimental Living in the U.S.A. The cover story of People Magazine’s October 24, 1977 issue hailed Ronstadt as “interpreter and voice of womanhood amid the din of the male indulgence that is rock 'n' roll. No other songstress in history has had five straight platinum LPs..." During this run Linda Ronstadt became known as the Queen of Rock.
As the Queen of Rock, Ronstadt’s influenced the vocal texture of rock music in the U.S. Her musical repertoire shared an eclectic sensibility that is the driving force of the Chicano rock approach. Ronstadt incorporated rhythm and blues, country and western, gospel singing and opera and infused it with her unique and powerful Mexican-influenced vocal style, blending the broad range of music she heard on the radio as a child growing up on a dusty dessert ranch. Ronstadt herself asserted that the sound of her rock singing was shaped by the legendary Mexican canción ranchera singer and estilo bravío interpreter Lola Bertrán, thus revealing the ways that Mexican musical tradition permeates American music.
In 1987, Ronstadt teamed up with country artists Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris for Trio and released her own traditional Mexican album, Canciones de Mi Padre, championing her Mexican heritage and further proving her cross-genre versatility. While previous generations of Mexican American artists felt compelled to disguise their ethnic roots, Linda Ronstadt had the commercial clout to feature her Latino roots. Canciones de Mi Padre became a smash hit, backed by Mariachi Vargas, one of Mexico’s finest mariachi ensembles. Ronstadt’s Spanish-language records, Más Canciones in 1991 and Frenesí in 1992 broadened the audience for Mexican-inspired music.
The great success of Canciones de Mi Padre was built upon a slim volume by the same title containing Ronstadt's Mexican grandfather’s favorite songs, brought with him to the United States from Sonora, Mexico. Published in 1946 by the University of Arizona and transcribed by Ronstadt's great aunt Luisa, the songs preserve Sonora’s 19th century musical history.
Linda Ronstadt continued to record and perform throughout the ‘90s and into the new millennium and recently served as the artistic director of the San Jose Mariachi and Mexican Heritage Festival. After a brief hiatus, Ronstadt is performing, touring and supporting struggles for human rights in Arizona. As one of the most popular female singers in U.S. pop music history, she is an incredible inspiration to Mexican Americans and living proof of the shaping influence Latinos have had in popular American music.