Linda Ronstadt: The Sound Of My Voice

One of the most commanding artists from the 60s and 70s finally gets her due with an insightful documentary. Linda Ronstadt: The Sound Of My Voice is narrated by the subject, and traces her origins from Arizona to the heights of musical stardom.

Growing up in an extremely musical family laid the groundwork for her love of singing. She decamped to Los Angeles at the right moment, in 1964 the city was exploding musically. She found herself at the vortex of perhaps the most talented stew of musicians: JD Souther, Ry Cooder, Don Henley, Glenn Frey, Jackson Browne, Emmylou Harris.

David Geffen, John Boylan and Peter Asher were there to help with studio and management duties.

Each provide current day on-camera perspective, supplemented by folks who were on the scene (like journalists Cameron Crowe and Robert Hilburn) and fellow travelers (like Bonnie Raitt and Dolly Parton).

The clips from the studio and stage are well-chosen, providing testament to her massive talent. The early clips of the Stone Poneys performing Michael (Monkees) Nesmith’s “Different Drum” are delightful, likewise the clips with the soon-to-be Eagles as her back-up band. Through her explosion opening for Neil Young to a segment performing the National Anthem at Dodger Stadium, many clips have rarely been seen.

As with most rock docs, the trajectory is chronological. After five platinum albums in a row (a feat unmatched by any other female artists), Ronstadt took a left turn upon meeting Joseph Papp. The result was her performance in Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Pirates of Penzance” with Kevin Kline.

The death of Ronstadt’s mother prompted the singer’s exploration of the American songbook. Enlisting the master arranger Nelson Riddle, she took another turn for three albums of the most timeless songs ever.

With forays into new wave and traditional Mexican canciones, Ronstadt was talented enough to be successful across genres. Included is a very wonderful clip of her in the studio with the immensely talented Rubén Blades. The album became the biggest selling Spanish language album of all time.

A common thread are reflections of record executives admitting they were wrong in trying to persuade her from making such radical musical shifts.

She speaks eloquently about the challenges of being a woman in a rock world full of men. Clips from her time with Governor Jerry Brown confirm her ability to hold her own. The film brings us to present day, with Ronstadt and others contemplating what it means that because of Parkinson’s Disease she can no longer sing.

The film is ably directed by Academy Award® winners Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman (THE TIMES OF HARVEY MILK, THE CELLULOID CLOSET, COMMON THREADS: STORIES FROM THE QUILT).

Trailer available here.



Brad Auerbach has been a journalist and editor covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, SPIN, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.