NEW YORK – Growing up close to U.S. border in Tucson, Arizona, Linda Ronstadt was exposed to the music and culture of Mexico from an early age. Her father would often sing at their home in Spanish.
“I heard Mexican radio my whole life,” the American singer told The Associated Press in a recent phone interview.
It’s something that stuck with her even decades after establishing her professional career in the mid-1960s, singing everything from folk-rock, country, light opera and pop.
“All the time I was doing other kinds of music, I kept thinking there would be a chance — like trying to record some of my pop songs to Spanish, but there weren’t really good translations. And I just really wanted to sing rancheras and huapangos,” Ronstadt said.
She finally did, starting in 1987 with the traditional Mariachi music album “Canciones de mi Padre” ("Songs of my Father") — which remains as the best-selling non-English album in the U.S. — followed by 1991’s “Más Canciones” ("More Songs,") 1992’s “Frenesí” ("Frenzy") and 2004’s “Mi Jardín Azul” ("My Blue Garden").
Now at 74, the 10-time Grammy winner and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer has been recognized as a “Legend” at the 33rd annual Hispanic Heritage Awards. The ceremony, prerecorded and socially distanced due to the coronavirus pandemic, was aired Tuesday night on PBS.
Other honorees included Bad Bunny (Vision Award,) Selena Gomez (Arts Award,) U.S. essential farmworkers (Heroes Award) and Sebastián Yatra (Inspira Award), who was also the host.
Ronstadt, attending remotely from her home in San Francisco, was surprised by Los Tigres del Norte’s Jorge and Hernán Hernández with the award.
“It made me really happy,” she said. “I’m a huge fan of Los Tigres del Norte. I’ve loved their music for years and I didn’t realize they were coming to my house to present me with the award. I thought they were gonna do it on the internet, you know? I hadn’t been hugging anybody because of COVID, but I hugged them. I was so excited. I said, ‘We’re Mexicans, we hug.’"
She was also serenated with a bilingual tribute that featured The Mavericks with Carla Morrison, Gaby Moreno, Joy Huerta (from Jesse & Joy), Lupita Infante and La Marisoul (from La Santa Cecilia).
Ronstadt, who in 2012 was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, said that her life changed “very little” during the pandemic because she stays home most of the time anyway, “but it changed so profoundly for other people it breaks my heart.”
In an electoral year that has seen so much illness as well as social unrest and racial conflict, she said: “I wish we can have a dialogue with the greater community. I wish that Americans wouldn’t dismiss and marginalize immigrants or Mexican Americans or any people of Latinx descent. They shouldn’t just treat them like they’re pieces of furniture.”
Looking back on her most cherished moments of her career, the singer said “the most fun” she had was back in 1998 and 1999 touring with her Mexican music. "I’d fall asleep on the bus and I’d hear all these voices in Spanish and English talking and singing.” It was something that reminded her of her childhood, she said.
Asked if she had any regrets in her life, she replied quickly with a laugh: “I wish that I had more time to work on the Mexican music. I would spend a lot of time learning how to play the jarana,” she said, referring to a guitar-shaped instrument from the southern region of the state of Veracruz, Mexico.
Among other accolades, Ronstadt was honored by the Kennedy Center last year and has received three American Music Awards, two ACM Awards and an Emmy.
She can soon be seen in “Linda and the Mockingbirds,” a documentary on her journey to Mexico with a group of young students in 2019, which will be released digitally on Oct. 20.
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