Linda Maria Ronstadt grew up on a ten-acre ranch in Tucson, Arizona. Her father was of German, English and Mexican ancestry and her aunt, Luisa Ronstadt Espinel, had been an international singer in the 1920s. The Ronstadt household was intensely musical, drawing on a wide range of styles and cultures; Mexican music was a favorite, with songs dating back to the 1800s, to Northern Mexico, decades before Arizona became US territory.
“My father’s side of the family, when they got together, they sang in Spanish,” Linda remembers. “Someone would start a song somewhere. Someone would have a guitar and start to plunk out a few chords. And the songs would start. And they were beautiful, beautiful old songs.”
Linda established her musical career in the 1960s. “I was kind of hoping that the musicians that I’d met over in L.A. that I was gonna form a little band with, the Stone Poneys, that we could maybe make a record in Spanish,” said Rondstadt. “Because after all, Richie Valens had had a hit with “La Bamba.” But the record company didn’t like that idea.”
Her career in Rock took off, and she became the best-selling female rocker of the 1970s. Her most successful album, Heart Like a Wheel, sold over 2 million copies in 1974, helping to cement a career that spanned over 2 decades. Ronstadt has been honored with Grammys, three American Music awards, and two Academy of Country Music awards.
Linda has been an adventurous collaborator, working with artists in diverse genres, including Bette Midler, Frank Zappa, Rosemary Clooney, Flaco Jiménez, Philip Glass, and Dolly Parton Her voice appears in over 120 albums and has sold more than 100 million records, making her one of the world's best-selling artists of all time.
In 1987 she surprised the music world when she released an all-Spanish album. It was a risky move. Latin Music had not yet penetrated American mainstream culture, and while acknowledging Ronstadt’s “guttural soprano which lends itself to the brassy huapangos and rancheras,” Rolling Stone called it “a bit of eccentricity from a very unlikely source.”
Yet Ronstadt saw the album as a personal project and had the clout of two decades as a superstar to make it work. She took her inspiration from the great Mexican singer Lola Beltrán and brought together the three best Mariachi bands in the world: Mariachi Vargas, Mariachi Los Camperos, and Mariachi Sol de Mexico. Canciones de mi Padre (“Songs of My Father”) became a global smash hit. With 2.5 million U.S. sales, it stands as the biggest selling non-English language album to date in U.S. music history. It was certified Double-Platinum and also won Ronstadt the Grammy Award for Best Mexican-American Performance at the 31st Grammy Awards in 1988.
“I had to go back and find that little girl that was falling asleep in the uncle and aunts’ laps hearing that mixture of Spanish and English,” Ronstadt says. “Because that’s really who I was first before I became a Pop star.”
In August 2013, Ronstadt revealed she has Parkinson's disease, ending her musical career. In 2014 she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.