by James Hudson
"I told Linda Ronstadt I had a crush on her back in the day." How many music fans over the years have wanted to tell Tucson's favorite daughter these words in person? When you're the leader of the free world, you can make these kind of things happen.
This whispered admission occurred last night during an awards ceremony as singer Linda Ronstadt received the National Medal of Arts from President Barack Obama. The White House was recognizing her "one-of-a-kind voice and her decades of remarkable music. Drawing from a broad range of influences, Ms. Ronstadt defied expectations to conquer American radio waves and help pave the way for generations of women artists."
NPR Radio talk show host Diane Rehm was there as well, having received the same award in 2013, and got an additional thanks from President Obama for interviewing him as a young, struggling writer. Today, Ronstadt was on The Diane Rehm Show in a rare interview, and the first discussing her book, Simple Dreams: A Musical Memoir, which will be out on paperback in September.
During Rehm's in-depth interview, a good-humored and relaxed Ronstadt discussed those many musical influences, and how her artistic choices were a reflection of her upbringing in Tucson. Ronstadt continually persevered in a mind-bogglingly diverse forty-plus-year career that saw the pop artist conquering the genres of country, rock, jazz, big band and mariachi. While taking questions from Rehm's audience, Ronstadt covered many topics from Simple Dreams, including her childhood growing up in such a naturally musical family; strict piano-teaching Catholic nuns; hard times in The Stone Poneys; and enjoying her first hit song, 1967's "Different Drum."
Ronstadt also touches on Arizona politics, the Mexico border, and coming to grips with the realization that her voice was rapidly deteriorating following her Parkinson's disease diagnosis. Particularly touching is her sharing the sadness of not being able to sing harmony with her nephews here in Tucson, some of whom perform solo ("Mikey", ) or as part of Ronstadt Generations. Life with Ronstadt's adopted daughters, a subject she rarely addresses, is also discussed.
Listen to the complete interview here: Linda Ronstadt on The Diane Rhem Show (07/29/2014)