Music News

Bonnie Raitt's Fascinating Life

During a career that — so far — has spanned well over 40 years, Bonnie Raitt has established herself as an indomitable force in the music community. Known for her brilliant guitar work, bluesy ballads, searing soulful vocals, and, of course, that mass of flaming red hair, it turns out there's plenty about Raitt most don't know.

Her backstory provides a fascinating trajectory in terms of her artistry, accolades, and the sequence of events that brought her to icon status. Raitt may play the blues, but her career is multihued. Here are a few facts that casual fans may not know about this powerful songstress.

5. On Broadway

Raitt is the daughter of Broadway legend John Raitt, an actor capable of projecting both an indelible image of dominant, confident masculinity and a riveting voice ready-made for the musical stage. The elder Raitt made his mark in such legendary shows as Carousel, Oklahoma, and The Pajama Game, roles that forever identified him with the golden age of the Broadway musical. Her mother, widely heralded singer and pianist Marge Goddard, was no slouch either in terms of musical DNA.

4. Si Se Puede

In spite of her upbringing, music wasn't Raitt's first career choice. She majored in social relations and African studies at Radcliffe. And while folk and blues attracted her interest early on — she got her first guitar at age 8 — she was equally intrigued by politics and the changes in the social strata during the tumult of the 1960s. Raitt's commitment to activism never faltered; she's used her fame to support any number of important causes, from fighting apartheid and the spread of nuclear proliferation to preserving the environment and working for the rights of the oppressed.

3. White Girl Sings the Blues

Coming from a well-to-do show business family, Raitt seemed an unlikely candidate to pursue the blues. And yet, under the tutelage of such legends as John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, Fred McDowell, Sippie Wallace, and Son House, she quickly established credibility. Prior to Raitt, most better-known white blues musicians — especially those with guitars in their hands who fronted bands — were male and British, like Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page. Yet Raitt established a new feminist template, one that was later emulated by the likes of Rory Block, Susan Tedeschi, and Lucinda Williams.

2. Later in the Game

Raitt didn't score her first big hit until half a dozen years into her career, when her remake of "Runaway" sprinted to number one. Until that time, Raitt's albums were praised by critics but mostly ignored by the record-buying public. "Runaway" prompted a bidding war between her then-current label, Warner Bros., and Columbia Records. Raitt opted to stay with Warner, only to have the label dump her along with several other established artists little more than six years later.

1. Can You Hold This Grammy? I Have to Grab My Keys.

When it comes to Grammy nods, Raitt is one of the most successful female artists ever. She's chalked up ten of them over the course of her career. Her defining moment came when Nick of Time, her debut album for Capitol Records, helped her garner four Grammys and took her to the top of the charts. Both follow-up albums, Luck of the Draw and Longing in Their Hearts, packed her mantel with plenty more of these gold-plated gramophones. It took 20 years, but Raitt was finally a credible commercial success. And she hasn't stopped since.

KEEP NEW TIMES BROWARD-PALM BEACH FREE... Since we started New Times Broward-Palm Beach, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of South Florida, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Lee Zimmerman