Tonight, filmmaker James Keach brings to CNN a no miss intimate portrait of one of our finest singers in modern American history, Linda Ronstadt.
Rock, New Wave, Country, Jazz and Big Band Vocals – no genre of music was beyond the ken of American songwriter and singer Linda Ronstadt, the descendant of German and Mexican immigrants who defined a musical moment in time last century that has not been matched by anyone since.
In Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice, you meet her and hear her fascinating stories first-hand. She grew up in Tuscon and grew up listening to a wide swath of music on the radio, inspiring and guiding her own unique trajectory in the arts.
Ronstadt narrates her story over footage of her personal photos and archival film of her concert performances and music videos while taking us on a journey through her formative early years in Tucson, singing Mexican canciones with her family, to her “right time and right place” fortuitous dip into the waters of the LA music scene as the co-founder of the Stone Poneys.
We see how she comfortably maneuvered the genre-defying musical collaborations over the course of her life, as Ronstadt’s stories give us new insights behind her songbook favorites including, You’re No Good, Blue Bayou, and many more.
Her eclectic tastes are thanks in part to her early exposure to the varied music from Europe, Mexico and the USA was the fuel that ignited her passion to sing. The mix of Mexican and American country and big band standards along with classical music (thanks to her grandparents), including opera, made her appreciate vocals in all forms. Even Hank Williams’ classic country standards shaped her tastes and phrasing.
From her very first group, The New Union Ramblers, to her groundbreaking band The Stone Poneys, and ultimately her solo career as a chart-busting superstar was thanks in large part to her musician brother Bobby who left the family home in Arizona for California.
He urged his sister to come out to sing with him in a band. Not long after, Ronstadt soared to fame worldwide, discovered in Los Angeles in the 1960s.
Her training grounds were beatnik clubs and small gigs in the LA area. She and Bobby rented a Santa Monica beach bungalow and together they navigated the burgeoning LA rock, arts and music scene. Introduced to Jackson Browne, The Byrds, Don Henley, Rick Nelson, Elton John and other luminaries in rock and folk American music, she was in with the in-crowd quickly.
The Troubadour club in LA was musical ground zero. This was the era of The Doors, Joni Mitchell, and Kris Kristofferson during the time that record companies were scouring the clubs for talent, and she stood out like a beacon.
Of Jim Morrison, the lead singer of The Doors, she amusingly recounts seeing the band and not being too impressed by the enigmatic lead man. But Ry Cooder was someone who left a mark. In the doc, Ronstadt says: “He [Ry] was one of the best musicians and guitar players I had ever seen.”
Interestingly, it was Monkees’ star Mike Nesmith who penned a song that she made her own. Different Drum became her entry to a music world electric with talent from the UK and all over the USA, and it was her moment to never look back.
Her performance of this song piqued music manager Herb Cohen, and soon after she was off to a recording career despite a bit of push back in the recording studio.
She recalls the initial disagreement over the arrangement of the song and went along with the label’s idea to introduce more classical strings to the recorded version. And she turned out a “huge hit,” in her words, “despite myself.”
The song and her debut on this larger platform blew everyone away in the club and music scene. The difference between her Stoney Poneys’ version above and the studio release below is worth listening to and comparing:
All in all, Ronstadt produced over five decades of chart-busting hits and dominating the music scene was her destiny. Linda Ronstadt’s ability to masterfully conquer and deliver hit after hit in a cross-genre songbook packed arenas, and it racked up 11 platinum albums.
Golden Globe-winning producer James Keach, an astute storyteller in groundbreaking musical films such as the Johnny Cash biopic Walk The Line and Glenn Campbell CNN doc, I’ll Be Me, said in a press statement:
“When Linda asked us to go to Mexico with her, I was as surprised as everyone when she then asked me to film her singing harmony with her nephew and cousin on a favorite family traditional Mexican folk song. She had not sung in public since 2009. For me, this was one of the most poignant moments of my career.”
This is a rare and powerfully told portrait of someone who was the first female artist to top the Pop, Country, and R&B music charts simultaneously. Her famous duets with musical luminaries such as James Ingram, Aaron Neville, Bonnie Raitt, and Mariachi Vargas are explored as well.
Awards followed her hits too, as she earned 10 Grammy Awards with 26 career nominations. Of note, this earned The 2019 Critics’ Choice Documentary Award Best Music Documentary award, of which Monsters and Critics is a voting member.
“Rob and Jeffrey have crafted a film that soulfully captures how Linda Ronstadt broke the mold for female artists, all while remaining true to herself…and, once again, James Keach has delivered another powerful portrait of a music icon,” said Courtney Sexton, executive producer and senior vice president for CNN Films in a press statement.
This is one to record and absolutely not to miss, a fine New Years’ Day evening watch.
Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice airs tonight January 1, 2020, at 9:00 PM ET/PT on CNN.
The film will encore Saturday, Jan. 04 at 9:00 pm ET, and Sunday, Jan. 05 at 12:00 am ET, on CNN.
**During the New Year’s Day premiere on CNN, Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice, will stream live for subscribers via CNNgo (at CNN.com/go and via CNNgo apps for Apple TV, Roku, Amazon Fire, Chromecast, Samsung Smart TV, and Android TV) and on the CNN mobile apps for iOS and Android. The film will be available beginning Thursday, Jan. 02, on-demand via cable/satellite systems, CNNgo platforms, and CNN mobile apps.