Linda Ronstadt Passed Up Marriage For Her Music And She Has No Regrets

Linda Ronstadt’s career, as both a solo singer and a member of the Stone Poneys, is frankly legendary. After all, there aren’t many artists in history who have sold more than 100 million records! She was a fixture in the charts for five decades, before finally bowing out of the limelight after a Parkinson’s disease diagnosis. Her personal life has always fascinated fans and the industry, though, as she often seemed to prioritize music over relationships — and she had some strong opinions on marriage.

A mixed heritage

Ronstadt came into the world on July 15, 1946, in Tucson, Arizona. Her father was part of a famous ranching family in the region and was of Mexican descent. He had a German ancestor, though, hence the surname “Ronstadt.” Her mother was from Michigan, and had English, Dutch, and German ancestry.

It was this mix of lineages, and her light skin, that meant for much of her early career, people always seemed surprised about Ronstadt’s Mexican heritage, despite the fact she never hid it.

Being upfront

For instance, she once told The Guardian, “Back in 1967 Tiger Beat magazine asked me what my ambition was for my career. I said I want to become a really good Mexican singer. But it wasn’t noticed or validated.”

In the ‘70s, she told Rolling Stone about the most significant influence on her singing — Mexican artist Lola Beltrán — but the magazine spelled her name, “Laura Del Turone.” Ronstadt lamented, “They didn’t bother to get her name right, because they didn’t think it mattered.”

“Mexican-Americans are made to feel invisible”

In the ’80s, Ronstadt even appeared on The Today Show in traditional Mexican clothing, while promoting a Spanish-language album entitled Canciones de Mi Padre of well-known Mexican songs. This would seem to have made her heritage as obvious as possible, but still the host asked if her dad was half-Mexican.

Ronstadt replied, “Actually, he’s all Mexican,” and in 2022 confessed, “She was trying to soften the blow of the word ‘Mexican.’ That’s typical of what happens. Mexican-Americans are always made to feel invisible.”

Passing as “white” led to issues

We’ve mentioned all this to demonstrate how Ronstadt has always been upfront and proud about her Mexican heritage, and about Mexican culture in general. It’s why it has been such a source of frustration over the years that her light skin seemed to cause people to cast it aside.

In fact, passing as “white” also meant Ronstadt often had to deal with people being disparaging about her people, and often right to her face. She admitted, “People didn’t have a clue I was Mexican unless they grew up with me. I heard plenty of it. I’d straighten them out fast.”

Speaking out about prejudice

To this day, Ronstadt has remained outspoken about the United States’ uncomfortable history with Mexico, and the discrimination she still believes that Mexicans experience. She once told Esquire magazine, “There’s been prejudice against Mexico ever since the United States stole it in 1846.”

She explained, “We forget that Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, California, they were all parts of Mexico. It’s a huge swath of land, and it was taken unfairly by the Americans. So, the Mexicans who stayed didn't migrate: the border migrated.”

Singing has always been sacred to her family

For Ronstadt, the Mexican culture she grew up in has always gone hand in hand with singing. She told Esquire, “I’ve been singing since I was three. So, some of these Mexican songs are deeply personal for me, sacred to my family.”

She continued, “We had a picnic — a pachanga we call it — where you cook outside and sit outside. And my family was there singing — four or five generations.” She observed, “We’ve got a lot of different good voices in the family, from soprano to bass.”

Listening to her father’s voice

In the same vein, Ronstadt told Fresh Air, “My father had a beautiful, beautiful baritone voice. He sounded like a cross between Pedro Infante and Frank Sinatra. And he just had wonderful stories in his singing.”

She continued, “If there was a dinner party or something, he'd get the guitar out, you know, about 10:00 p.m. or 11:00 p.m. And everybody would start to listen. And he'd just sing. And I always would fall asleep in somebody’s lap listening to my dad sing some beautiful song.”

Canciones de Mi Padre

By the time she released Canciones de Mi Padre in the ‘80s, Ronstadt had already tried to record a Spanish-language album several times. The record label had always discouraged the idea, though, until she decided enough was enough. She wasn’t going to take no for an answer any more.

She revealed, “I told them, ‘I’ve got all these songs in Spanish and I’m sure they’d be hits. One of them was ‘La Bamba’ and one was ‘La Negra.’ I said, ‘If “La Bamba” was a hit, I can make “La Negra” a hit.’”

Betting on herself and her culture

Luckily, Ronstadt had achieved enough stratospheric success in the early ‘80s that she could overrule her label and record the album anyway. She said the execs “were horrified. But I had to sing those songs, or I was going to die.”

In essence, Ronstadt marched to the beat of her own drum here and bet on herself. And she was vindicated when the album sold like gangbusters. In fact, it became the biggest-selling album ever that wasn’t sung in English.

Unafraid of female sentiment

Another example of Ronstadt doing her own thing came in 1974 when she recorded the Anna McGarrigle song “Heart Like A Wheel” for an album of the same name. She once told Fresh Air, “The McGarrigles kind of married this incredibly traditional sort of refined aesthetic with, you know, just telling it like it is.”

She explained that their songwriting style was “sort of straight out, no bones about it: the way they'd talk about stuff. And it was just this unabashed sentiment. They were unafraid of female sentiment.”

She just had to sing “Heart Like A Wheel”

Ronstadt continued, “I didn't know what to call it then, but I just knew it was different from folk music. And it wasn't the same as rock ’n’ roll.” She added, “There was no place for it in pop music on the charts.”

She continued, “But I wanted to sing it because it told my story exactly how I felt at the time… how I was feeling about my life and my relationships. And I just had to sing it.”

Shut down by the powers-that-be

Once again, though, the powers-that-be tried to dissuade Ronstadt from following her creative muse. She revealed, “My manager at the time, he said, ‘Oh, that's just too corny. You know, nobody’s going to want to listen to that.’”

She added, “And the record company wasn't interested in it. They said, ‘Oh, that’s not a hit. They’ll never play it on the radio.’ So… it just sort of hurt my feelings on behalf of the song. And I sort of folded it up and tucked it in my pocket.”

She just kept trying, and finally it paid off

The song finally came to life backstage at New York City’s iconic Carnegie Hall, though, when Ronstadt’s piano player Andrew Gould began playing the harmony. She revealed, “I don't know where he had learned it… I said, ‘I know that song. Let's do it!’”

She added, “I said, ‘Let’s put it in the show.’ And we put it in the next night at Carnegie Hall. It got a huge response. So, that was how I won with that song. I just kept trying, you know?”

An unusual attitude toward marriage

Another arena in which Ronstadt has forged her own path is in her romantic relationships. Over the years she has dated country singer J.D. Souther and comedy superstar Jim Carrey; she even found herself engaged to Star Wars creator George Lucas in the ‘80s.

Heck, as she once told Us Weekly, she had the “ring on the finger and all.” She wound up breaking off the engagement before walking down the aisle, though, and to this day she has never married. In truth, her unusual attitude to wedlock may have started in childhood.

Growing up on both sides of the border

You see, the family divided their time between Arizona and Mexico, making Ronstadt’s childhood a tale told on both sides of the border. In 2022 she told iNews, “We spent a lot of time with family in Mexico, visiting Guaymas, a fishing town on the Sea of Cortés, every summer. It was much cooler there.”

She continued, “My dad, mum, sister Suzy, and brothers Peter and Mike all sang harmonies in the car. It was before we had air conditioning, so you needed something to distract you from the heat!”

Mexico had a retrograde approach to marriage in the ‘50s

At only 12 years old, though, Ronstadt found herself in an awkward situation with a 17-year-old Mexican, a mariachi band, and a marriage proposal she knew was sure to follow after the band stopped playing.

She witheringly revealed, “Yeah, they start early in Mexico. I think he was just putting down a marker. In Mexico, even in the ‘50s, it was a lot like the 19th century. Women didn’t go anywhere unchaperoned.”

Marriage “would have meant giving up a lot”

The star admitted, “Girls got married young there — at 13 — so when you are 12, men are already looking you over.” Naturally, she declined the proposal, but also revealed, “It wasn’t so hard for me, because I didn’t have to live there all year round.”

It almost certainly instilled a healthy distrust of marriage in the singer at that young age, though, as even in adulthood she reasoned, “I just didn’t see why I should do it. It would have meant giving up a lot.”

The music industry isn’t great for forging relationships

As she grew into an adult working in the music industry, Ronstadt found forming relationships to be difficult. Way back in 1974 she spoke to CRAWDADDY magazine and revealed, “You build up relationships and you build up relationships, and I’m really in contact with groovy people.”

She continued, “Then all of a sudden there’s a hitch someplace and it makes you think that everything is wrong. Like if somebody turns out a little jive; if there’s one aspect of their personality that’s jive.”

In fact, they’re “almost impossible”

Elaborating on this clash of personalities, Ronstadt explained, “I mean, you’re dealing in a business where egos are just continually inflated and over-hyped and developed. When you go into the music business it’s just like one area of your psyche is allowed to develop abnormally. It’s really weird.”

At that point, her experiences had led her to the conclusion, “Relationships are almost impossible,” which was a pretty big statement to make for someone who hadn’t even hit 30 yet!

Musicians might be “too competitive”

“First of all, you have the possibilities of new ones waved in your face every three seconds,” Ronstadt revealed, before insinuating that life on the road wasn’t exactly conducive to forming lasting connections. “Second of all, you're not around long enough.”

She added, “Also, the people you come in contact with are other musicians and everybody’s real competitive. Relationships just don't seem to pan out for very long, you know? I mean, I really understand now about Hollywood marriages!”

She didn’t know what to do

The “You’re No Good” singer admitted, “I just didn’t understand for the longest time. ‘Why can’t people just get married and stay married? I mean you love somebody, and you just stay married.’ It’s just not that way. You’re subjected to so much new information all the time that you just change all the time.”

Ronstadt added, “I can't figure out what to do,” and when the journalist offered, “It sounds to me like nobody’s ever going to live up to it,” she confessed, “Yeah. It’s true.”

Dating a governor

Arguably Ronstadt’s most public romance was with Jerry Brown in the mid-‘70s. At that time, he was Governor of California: the fact he was a politician dating a pop star meant the couple’s private lives were consistently broadcast for the whole country to see.

They appeared on the cover of People, Newsweek, and Us Weekly magazines, although Brown insisted they never courted the media. In 2016 he complained, “We didn’t go out in public that much. It was a pain in the neck.”

Brown was different from her usual men

In her 2013 biography Simple Dreams, Ronstadt wrote, “Jerry Brown and I had a lot of fun for a number of years. He was smart and funny, not interested in drinking or drugs, and lived his life carefully, with a great deal of discipline.”

She revealed, “This was different from a lot of men I knew in rock and roll. I found it a relief.” Yet while Brown may have been the opposite of the musical men in her orbit, Ronstadt also didn’t have any real desire to live in his political world.

Brown needed a wife committed to his political life...

The couple separated in the wake of Brown’s failed Presidential bid in 1980; in ’81 he told People, “I definitely want to have a wife and children. I just haven't found the right person. I’m struggling to do the work that I’m doing. And that struggle is paramount.”

He continued, “My wife would have to be very committed to what I’m doing. Also, I have a very restless mind and that restlessness may, to some degree, be inconsistent with domesticity.”

...but that wasn’t Ronstadt

It’s not hard to read between the lines and surmise that Ronstadt’s distaste for marriage may have been too big a hurdle for the couple to overcome. For her part, Ronstadt wrote, “Neither of us ever suffered under the delusion that we would like to share each other’s lives.”

She added, “I would have found his life too restrictive, and he would have found mine entirely chaotic. Eventually we went our separate ways and embraced things that resonated with us as different individuals.”

She isn’t sure anyone needs to get married

Heartwarmingly, Ronstadt and Brown have always stayed on good terms, though. So much so, in fact, that in 2019 she told The New Yorker that he had spent the previous Christmas with her! When the interviewer asked what they talked about, she replied, “Water in California!”

She explained, “He said when he retires he wants to study trees and California Indians.” Regarding the fact they didn’t marry, she once again said, “I didn’t need to get married. I’m not sure that anybody needs to get married.”

Becoming a single mom

In 1990 Ronstadt did something out of the ordinary for a celebrity at the time — she adopted a baby girl, whom she named Mary Clementine. These days, it isn’t as unusual for unmarried celebs to become single parents to adopted kids.

Perhaps Ronstadt’s pioneering attitude should be thanked for normalizing that approach to starting a family, though. In 1994 she then adopted a baby boy named Carlos and proceeded to parent both children into adulthood on her own.

Not impossible to do it alone

Amazingly, Ronstadt had spoken publicly about adoption as far back as 1980, when she’d told Playboy, “I’ve thought about it a lot… The only reason to have children is because you want them more than anything else, and if I get to that point, I won’t care if I’m married or not.”

Yet she did admit, ”I’d prefer to be with the kids’ father, because I think that would multiply the enjoyment and the richness of the experience geometrically, but I don’t think it would be impossible to do it alone.”

Moving back home to Tucson

In 1997 Ronstadt made the decision to return to her roots: she and her kids moved from San Francisco back home to Tucson, Arizona. She told Architectural Digest, “I decided to raise my children there because they have more dirt, as opposed to concrete.”

She added, “That sense of place is something very hard to come by these days.” As the children got older, though, the family wound up moving back to San Francisco, while still retaining the Tucson home as well.

Returning to San Francisco

Ronstadt explained this decision in a 2019 New Yorker interview. She revealed, “My children were coming home repeating homophobic remarks they heard at school. And they’d also heard other things, like, ‘If you don’t go to church, you’re going to go to Hell.’”

“I thought, ‘You know, I don’t need that.’” She added, “I wanted them to have a sense of what a community was like where you could walk to school, walk to the market. More of an urban-village experience.”

No handbook for single-parenting

In 2006 Ronstadt graciously admitted to The Honolulu Advertiser, “I wish I were better at being a single parent. They don't have a handbook on how to do it! It would be nice if you could follow the book and have guaranteed results, in developing, creating, and maintaining a relationship without mistakes.”

On the other hand, though, she smiled, “But hey, my kids teach me stuff! I learned, for instance, what a good band AC/DC is, and I missed them in the ’70s. They're really good; I love them now!”

A life well-lived

In 1995 Ronstadt told The New York Times, “I've done many of the things I wanted to do in my life. I've had a very active social life. I've had a very active romantic life. I've traveled all over the world. And what I'd really like to do now is stay home.”

She continued, “I love to read. I love being at home and being part of a family. I love hanging around my brothers and sister and nieces and nephews with a house full of kids screaming and yelling.”

She was in no hurry to find a husband

At that stage, though, finding a man to walk down the aisle with was the furthest thing from her mind! Still, that wasn’t to say she thought relationships were off the table completely. She explained, “There's no such thing as the perfect mate. There’s the relationship you are able to renew.”

She continued, “That's not really conducive to a person with a life like mine, which is by nature episodic. I think what our culture supports is serial monogamy, which is exactly what I subscribe to.”

Marching to the beat of her own drum

Fast-forward to a chat with The New York Times in 2019 and Ronstadt revealed she really had been singing about herself in her 1967 hit single “Different Drum.” When the interviewer suggested, “That’s a stereotype-breaking song for a woman to sing: the character is a rambler who can’t be tamed,” Ronstadt beamed, “That’s me!”

She elaborated, “I thought I was too young for marriage or anything resembling it. And I continued to feel that way until I had children of my own. Having children makes you grow up.”

She didn’t want to field another person’s opinions

Then, in response to the interviewer saying, “But you adopted those children on your own. And you’ve chosen never to marry,” Ronstadt stated, “Right. I didn’t need somebody else’s opinion about how to raise my children. It’s hard enough being with my own opinion!”

It was a telling response from a woman in her 70s who has always been clear that marriage was never on the table for her, and she had no regrets about that. In fact, she reiterated the same sentiment in another interview around that time.

The parable of the pink sofa

Ronstadt was once again asked about marriage by The Washington Post, and she answered, “I have no talent for [it]. Not a shred. I don’t like to compromise. If I want a pink sofa and somebody doesn’t want a pink sofa, I’m not going to go for that.”

“I want the pink sofa.” Amusingly, the outlet then revealed that Ronstadt was speaking from experience: she really did own a pink sofa, and it took pride of place in her living room, not a shared space!

No ability to compromise

In truth, perhaps Ronstadt’s best articulation of her feelings on the institution of marriage came during the Fresh Air interview with Terry Gross in 2013. She mused, “The culture supports serial monogamy, and I think I had plenty of that.”

She went on, “And I think I was reasonably monogamous in a serial way, ”adding, “But I’m not a good compromiser. I admire people’s marriages, and I think it’s a wonderful thing to have, but I don’t think it’s the only way to live.”

Trying to sing; not get married

Elaborating on this point, Ronstadt explained, “I think there are many ways to live and many ways to establish intimate support in your life; that can be from family, or friends, or great roommates that you like. It doesn’t have to be someone you're sleeping with.”

She added, “I figured that out pretty early on; that was sort of how I felt. I was trying to sing; I was never trying to get married. I think you have to be pretty deliberate about getting married.”

Society’s attitude to sex gets on her nerves

In closing, Ronstadt’s strong feelings on society’s attitude toward relationships extend beyond just marriage, and into the realm of sex. She said, “Men are very delicate. They don’t like being rejected. I mean, the whole game of sex, it’s difficult. I feel sorry for everybody.”

By way of explanation, she said, “You really put yourself on the line. It’s a tremendously vulnerable position to be in, and we have this biology that drives us in this direction, and we have this culture that puts all these stupid rules on it.”