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Linda Ronstadt awarded Nat'l Medal of Arts for 'one-of-a-kind voice'

Obama admits boyhood crush

Tucson native Linda Ronstadt was awarded a National Medal of Arts by President Barack Obama on Monday. The White House cited the singer's "one-of-a-kind voice and her decades of remarkable music."

"Drawing from a broad range of influences, Ms. Ronstadt defied expectations to conquer American radio waves and help pave the way for generations of women artists," said a military aide during a White House ceremony.

Speaking afterward, Obama said he whispered to Ronstadt during the medal ceremony that he'd once had a crush on her.

"I told Linda Ronstadt I had a crush on her back in the day," he said.

Ronstadt was one of a dozen honored with an arts medal. Ten others were awarded National Humanities Medals.

Among those recognized were choreographer Bill T. Jones, filmmaker Jeffrey Katzenberg, documentarian Albert Maysles, and journalist Diane Rehm — who interviewed Ronstadt on her radio show Tuesday morning (sidebar).

"I felt like a fraud," Ronstadt told the veteran reporter. "I felt surely they'd made a mistake and they would be telling me any minute that, you know, I needed to go home. I was on the wrong list."

"I didn't know anybody else in the world felt that way," Rehm responded.

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Obama, while likely over his youthful infatuation, didn't agree with the singer's self-assessment.

"The late, great Maya Angelou once said, 'A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song,'" Obama said during Monday's ceremony. "Each of the men and women that we honor today has a song -– literally, in some cases. For others, it’s a talent, or a drive, or a passion that they just had to share with the world."

"We can never take for granted the flash of insight that comes from watching a great documentary or reading a great memoir or novel, or seeing an extraordinary piece of architecture. We can’t forget the wonder we feel when we stand before an incredible work of art, or the world of memories we find unlocked with a simple movement or a single note," Obama said.

"The moments you help create -– moments of understanding or awe or joy or sorrow -– they add texture to our lives," the president said. "hey are not incidental to the American experience; they are central to it -- they are essential to it. So we not only congratulate you this afternoon, we thank you for an extraordinary lifetime of achievement."

Ronstadt was elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last year, just months after she told the world that her renowned singing voice had been silenced by Parkinson's disease.

Although in Tucson, she's now known more for her work covering traditional mariachi songs and appearances as a political activist, four decades ago Ronstadt was known as the "Rock's Venus."

Well before 1987's "Canciones de mi Padre," she launched her career in the late '60s with the Stone Poneys and went on to receive 11 Grammys, an Emmy, two Academy of Country Music awards, and be nominated for the Tonys and Golden Globes.

Heralded for her perfect pitch and a voice so powerful it challenged even the most sturdy microphones, Ronstadt recorded hits such as "You're No Good," "When Will I Be Loved," "Heat Wave," "Blue Bayou" and of course a cover of the Eagles' "Desperado" before turning her attentions to genres as varied as Broadway (appearing to acclaim in "The Pirates of Penzance"), a duet with Mick Jagger ("Tumbling Dice"), a failed opera (a short-lived production of "La Boheme") and a series of pop/jazz albums with arranger Nelson Riddle.

Her last album, recorded as the ZoZo Sisters, was 2006's Cajun-flavored "Adieu False Heart."

In recent years, Ronstadt returned to Tucson after living in San Francisco, but not long after moved back to the Bay Area, citing the noise of aircraft from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base flying over her Midtown home.

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Last August, Ronstadt, now 68, announced that she was no longer able to sing, citing the symptoms of Parkinson's disease. She told AARP that she now uses poles to help her walk on uneven ground, and uses a wheelchair when traveling. She had stopped performing publicly in 2011.

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Jul 28, 2014, 6:09 pm
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@walkerpedals, See above in the story:

Speaking afterward, Obama said he whispered to Ronstadt during the medal ceremony that he’d once had a crush on her.

“I told Linda Ronstadt I had a crush on her back in the day,” he said.

Ronstadt was a donor to Obama’s 2008 campaign.

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Ronstadt on Rehm

Linda Ronstadt was interviewed by Diane Rehm; both women were honored by President Obama on Monday.

Ronstadt said she "felt like a fraud" and expected to be told to go home.

"Art is an ongoing process and you always think you're going to correct the mistakes you made the day before. It's just painful for me to listen to any of my old records," she said. "I'll always think I can't sing and never was able to sing and now here's proof. You know?"

The singer said that her Parkinson's disease "affected my voice first, I think. And I think I started having it in about the year 2000. It took away the sheen of all the beautiful kind of resonance that people have in human voices when they sing. There's a whole lot of notes that dance around. There are a lot of sympathetic frequencies, a lot of sympathetic tones that dance around. That was gone. And it's in that area that you do all the kind of mystical steering that you can dial in emotion or pitch, you know, both very technical parts of singing and the more spiritual parts of singing where you bring in emotion, veracity and whatever..."

"I really get it now, what it means to be disabled," she said, describing how she becomes exhausted merely brushing her teeth.

Ronstadt said she moved back to San Francisco after living in Tucson again "the politics were getting so gnarly in Arizona."

"I hate that there's a fence, you know, running through (the Sonoran Desert)," she said. "And I think it should come down as fast as it can, just like the Berlin Wall. We have to take the damn thing down."

Listen to the entire interview.