Singer Linda Ronstadt hasn’t spent a lot of time over the course of her life contemplating, much less courting, awards and honors. Even so, she’s collected a slew of them since her music career revved up in earnest in the mid-1960s, taking home 10 Grammy Awards, one Emmy, three Academy of Country Music Awards plus induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Come December, she’ll add a Kennedy Center Honor to that list when the Washington, D.C., institution recognizes her alongside “Sesame Street,” actress Sally Field, R&B group Earth, Wind & Fire and conductor, composer and pianist Michael Tilson Thomas as its 2019 slate of arts and entertainment world recipients.
“I never thought I would receive something like this,” she said Friday from her home in San Francisco. “I love the eclecticism of it.”
She joins a roster of musicians that the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts has honored over the last four decades, a group that includes Aretha Franklin, Carole King, Chuck Berry, Al Green, Quincy Jones, Barbra Streisand, George Jones, Elton John, Ella Fitzgerald, Cher and her old backup band, the Eagles.
Ronstadt says she is often hard-pressed to know how to respond to the honors that come her way, both because they were never a motivation for pursuing her singing career, and because she’s her own toughest critic about her work.
“If other people like it, I’ll take their word for it, rather than my own,” Ronstadt, 73, said with a laugh, reiterating a frequent observation that what she always notices about her own performances are the things she could have done better rather than what she got right. “It’s nice not to have to work in a vacuum. But I’m done with it now. I can’t do it anymore, so it’s a little frustrating. But that’s what it is and I have to live with it.”
She’s referring to the Parkinson’s disease that has robbed her of her ability to sing at the level she did while becoming one of the most acclaimed voices in rock during the ’60s and ‘70s, before turning her attention to a broad range of other styles of music including the traditional Mexican music of her youth, opera, Broadway and the pre-rock body of pop standards known as the Great American Songbook.
She said she will attend the annual ceremony in Washington D.C. later this year if she feels up to the demands of travel at the time. She said she has seen the widely circulated video of Aretha Franklin saluting Carole King by singing “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” in 2015 when King received her Kennedy Center Honor.
“I levitated,” she said unequivocally. “That was a thrill.”
Ronstadt consistently has stated that such awards were peripheral in her vision as a musician. When she was chosen for induction into the Rock Hall of Fame in 2013, more than 20 years after she first became eligible, she told The Times, “It’s not anything I’ve ever given a second thought to.”
And as to her 10 Grammy statuettes, “I don’t know where they are. The first one I left in the back seat of a rental car. I’d rented a car to go to the show, and tossed it in the back when I left. I forgot about it and left it there in the back seat.”
Ronstadt is the subject of a new documentary, “Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice,” that premiered in April at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York and which is scheduled for a theatrical premiere Sept. 6.
The film, which roughly parallels the structure and content of her 2013 book, “Simple Dreams: A Musical Memoir,” is directed by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman. It also involves some members of the creative team, including producer James Keach and composer Julian Raymond, from the 2014 Oscar-nominated, Grammy-winning documentary “Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me,” which traced the singer’s career and his latter-day struggle with Alzheimer’s disease.