Linda Ronstadt, A Hispanic Heritage 'Legend,' On Staying Connected Ahead of a Hispanic Heritage Awards ceremony where she's set to receive her latest honor in a career full of them, Ronstadt shares a few thoughts on identity with Lulu Garcia-Navarro.

Linda Ronstadt, A Hispanic Heritage 'Legend,' On Staying Connected

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LINDA RONSTADT: (Singing) I've been cheated, been mistreated. When will I be loved?


Linda Ronstadt, chart-topping, Grammy and Emmy-winning Rock & Roll Hall of Famer, is due to be honored again this week with a Hispanic Heritage Award. It's in recognition both of her pop music and her smash-hit mariachi albums.


RONSTADT: (Singing in Spanish).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And Linda Ronstadt joins us now. Welcome to the program, and congratulations.

RONSTADT: Thank you.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: A lot of people didn't realize that you have roots in Mexico until you released your mariachi albums in the late 1980s. How much of an influence did those roots have on your singing?

RONSTADT: Well, tremendous. And the singer that had the most influence on my singing style is Lola Beltran, who is sort of the Edith Piaf of Mexico. You know, Mexican culture is often so taken for granted and sort of invisible in the United States, and it's hard to sort of get through that screen. It wasn't anything that I hid, but it was just not as acknowledged as whatever else they were acknowledging. My vocal style is very influenced by Mexican singing. It's a belt style. I wasn't influenced by blues or Black church as much as most rock 'n' roll people were. I was much more influenced by Mexican music singers and rhythms.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, you are featured in an upcoming documentary called "Linda And The Mockingbirds."


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Linda invited our group, Los Cenzontles, to join her going to Mexico. We're going to play music...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I must ask, when did you find the time to make a documentary? Because I'll note that it's now been seven years since you announced that you had Parkinson's.

RONSTADT: Well, I didn't make the documentary. I mean, we had a film crew going with us to Mexico because they were trying to get the end of the documentary they were making about me, which I also didn't make. But if somebody else was making it, I was cooperating with it. And they wanted to have an interview, and I said, if you want an interview, you have to come to Mexico and interview me there because I had this trip planned. And I figured it'd be more fun to do that than sitting in my living room and be a talking head.

And I had planned to take this trip with this cultural group that I work with called Los Cenzontles. They teach young children from the ages of 6 to 19 how to play traditional Mexican music, how to play the instruments, sing and dance. And they also teach visual art. And it's one of the most exciting places I've ever been involved with. I've been working with them for almost 30 years now. They teach children to play music not to be performing fields but to use it socially, to express their emotions and to communicate with each other. And the kids that come out of that program have a better - much better chance of finishing high school. There's fewer teen pregnancies. More of them go to college and finish. Some of them turn out to be really great professional musicians. That's not the goal. The goal is to teach them how to have tools to socialize with and a way to connect back to their original culture with pride and dignity.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Working with that group for 30 years, tell me why it's so important for you to connect with your heritage in that way.

RONSTADT: Well, I grew up in the Sonoran desert, which is an area that exists on both sides of the border. In fact, my family was in that part of the world before this was a country, so to say that we're newcomers is a bit of a stretch. Even here in California, my family came here in '70, '69. So you know, I resent anybody saying, go back where you came from. It'd have been easier for me because I like to get in I have a German surname, so I'm sort of a secret Mexican American. Sometimes, people don't realize who they're talking to, and they start making racist remarks.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Has that happened to you?

RONSTADT: Oh, yeah. To my father, too - he'd be at a cocktail party, and somebody would start saying, these Mexicans, they're coming here. And they'd call them some slur, ethnic slur. It's not a good thing to do to my dad.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: How would he react?

RONSTADT: Well, he's very stern. He would put up with no racist talk.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, I must say you must have inherited something of that from him, as well. You are very outspoken. And last year, during a dinner for the Kennedy Center Honors, you very famously took Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to task for, quote, "enabling President Trump." What happened after that? Were there any aftereffects?

RONSTADT: Chief Justice Roberts came into my box the following night with Nancy Pelosi and was full of praise, not about that specific thing but in general. And he sent me then an autographed picture of himself, of the two of us together and asked me to send a photograph of himself. So they couldn't have been too mad.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What music is getting you through this moment? You know, often in times of difficulty, people gravitate to certain types of music or particular songs that give them comfort. Do you have any of those?

RONSTADT: Well, I listen to opera a lot. I have to say I listen to opera a lot on YouTube, and I love it because I can hear one soprano singing an aria from "La Traviata," and I can hear five other ones from different times, from Rosa Ponselle to Maria Callas to Anna Netrebko. It's fun to be able to compare them. But recently, I reinstalled my turntable and got my vinyl albums out, and I put on "Pet Sounds" by The Beach Boys, and it was a revelation. Brian Wilson is a genius. I love his music. It cheered me up.


THE BEACH BOYS: (Singing) Wouldn't it be nice if we were older?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's amazing. You got out your turntable. Do you have a big vinyl collection?

RONSTADT: No. I have only about 10 records. I gave up all my vinyl when CDs became so ubiquitous, but I never thought they sounded as good as vinyl.


THE BEATLES: (Singing) I once had a girl...

RONSTADT: So I just got a couple of vinyl pressings of just some classic things that I like - "Rubber Soul," "Kind Of Blue" by Miles Davis, which is a perfect record.


RONSTADT: "Blue" by Joni Mitchell, which is another perfect record.


JONI MITCHELL: (Singing) Oh, you know, it sure is hard to leave here, Carey, but it's really not my home.

RONSTADT: "Graceland" by Paul Simon - all of his records are great, but I'm fond of that one because I sang on it.


PAUL SIMON AND LINDA RONSTADT: (Singing) His path was marked by the stars in the Southern Hemisphere, and he walked his days under African skies.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Do you have a message for the Latino community at this time since this is a Hispanic Heritage Award?

RONSTADT: Well, keep your powder dry. Keep fighting. You know, there's a lot of abuses by ICE in the jails and the private prison corporations taking tremendous advantage of the fact that they can lock people up for long periods of time with utter neglect. And the fact that they're locking children up into cages and separating them from their families is just cruel beyond words. It's such a disgrace. People are in the streets rioting - not rioting, but they're demonstrating in the streets. They have to keep demonstrating.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, you have meant a great deal to a great many people. That is Linda Ronstadt. She'll receive the Hispanic Heritage Award in a virtual ceremony this week that will also be broadcast by PBS. Thank you very much. And congratulations - felicidades.

RONSTADT: Well, thank you for having me.


RONSTADT: (Singing in Spanish).

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