“Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice” is a colorful and comprehensive documentary of the powerhouse singer, directed by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman. This is a holistic portrait of Ronstadt, warm-hearted and engaging at every turn.
The singer has earned 10 Grammys. She was nominated for a Tony and is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Ronstadt was born on July 15, 1947 in Tucson. Her father Gilbert was a Mexican-German machinery seller, fond of singing Mexican songs. Her mother Ruth was German and Dutch, a homemaker with a great interest in science.
As a young girl, singing was everywhere Ronstadt went. The radio was her best friend. She learned about her voice as an instrument of nature from her brother and moved to California knowing that she wanted to sing.
In the 1960s, Ronstadt formed a group The Stone Poneys with friend Bobby Kimmel. They recorded “Different Drum” by Michael Nesmith of The Monkees and it was a hit. This attracted the attention of the formidable Herbert Cohen, Frank Zappa’s manager.
Linda Ronstadt made up her mind to be a solo artist although, according to David Geffen, she was insecure about her singing. Her breakout album was her fifth, “Heart Like A Wheel” (1974) backed by Eagles men Glen Frey and Don Henley.
Through it all, Linda Ronstadt endlessly pushes herself to new beginnings. Fed up with playing huge venues, she seeks out Joseph Papp and earns a place alongside Kevin Kline in “The Pirates of Penzance.” They tell Ronstadt she can’t do it.
She proves them wrong with a Tony nomination.
The film portrays the singer as a supersonic flower moving through space, hyperactively talking. She is a musical Pop Art Frida Kahlo, alive with sound and color with nothing to stop her. One day, Ronstadt has an epiphany. She wants to record an album of old standards by Sinatra and Peggy Lee. Her associates say no. Again, she proves her naysayers wrong. Instantly, in an overcoat and felt hat, she becomes a femme fatale.
Under the numinous power of music, Ronstadt is a chameleon. There is little that she cannot do.
Most personal to Ronstadt was her work on “Canciones De Mi Padre” (1987) an all-Spanish record featuring Mariachi songs that have been sung by her relatives. The album still stands as the best-selling non-English album in American music history.
Ronstadt was asked why people sing. The artist replied that people sing for the same reason that birds do, to serenade their love, to claim their place and for the joy of being alive.
“The Sound of My Voice” shows Linda Ronstadt for what she is, a musical shape-shifter and a seeker of sound whose powers pine to rise up beyond her circumstance of Parkinson’s disease. As a true sorceress of the art, one gets the feeling that she is only biding her time. At any moment, Ronstadt might transform into a cambaya-patterned caracara and sing into the sky.
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