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Linda Ronstadt: ‘I had to sing those songs or I was going to die’ | Music

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From the start of her career, Linda Ronstadt has talked to the media about her Mexican heritage. “Back in 1967, Tiger Beat magazine asked me what my ambition was for my career,” she recalled. “I said I want to become a really good Mexican singer. But it wasn’t noticed or validated.”

Then, in the 1970s, when Ronstadt became a major star, she told Rolling Stone that her biggest influence was the Mexican singer Lola Beltrán. “But they spelled it Laura Del Turone,” she recalled. “They didn’t bother to get her name right because they didn’t think it mattered.”

Even in the late 80s, when Ronstadt made her heritage as obvious as possible by appearing in traditional Mexican garb on the Today Show while promoting an album she had cut of classic songs from that country, Canciones de Mi Padre, the show’s puzzled host, Jane Pauley, asked if her father was “half-Mexican”.

“Actually, he’s all Mexican,” a flabbergasted Ronstadt answered.

“She was trying to soften the blow of the word Mexican,” the singer recalled. “That’s typical of what happens. Mexican Americans are always made to feel invisible.”

The singer’s lifelong frustration with that situation is one of the main reasons she took part in a poignant new documentary titled Linda and the Mockingbirds. The film illuminates Ronstadt’s near 30-year relationship with Los Cenzontles Cultural Arts Academy, an educational organization in the Bay Area that builds pride in young Mexican Americans by schooling them in the music and dance of their ancestral land. The heart of the film chronicles a 2019 trip Ronstadt financed for Los Cenzontles (an Aztecan term for the Mockingbirds) to travel to the rural town of Banámichi, where her grandfather grew up, to perform with the folkloric dance troupe Grupo Danza Xunutzi. For extra star power, Ronstadt brought along Jackson Browne, another strong supporter of the school.

The new documentary grew out of an earlier one released last year, The Sound of My Voice, which covered Ronstadt’s musical career. The star, who no longer sings due to her 2013 diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease, was reluctant to take part in the earlier film and agreed to be interviewed for it only if the film-makers followed her trip to Mexico. “I didn’t want to just be a talking head sitting in my living room talking about retirement,” she said.

The vibrancy of the music performed by Los Cenzontles, as well as the ugly politics that have affected both Mexicans and Mexican Americans in Trump’s “build the wall” era, inspired the film’s director, James Keach, to make the film. A key scene in it captures one of the organization’s most accomplished singers, Lucina Rodriguez, talking in front of the border wall about the harrowing experience she had as a child while crossing into the US with her family from her birthplace in Guadalajara. As it happened, Ronstadt and the singers arrived to film at the border the very day the Trump administration announced a state of emergency there. “We got to see exactly what the ‘emergency’ was,” Ronstadt said. “It was a few citizens walking around the streets shopping for groceries or picking up the newspaper. There were no hordes of brown people clawing to get across the border. But, all along, the Trump administration has been encouraging resentment of people from Mexico.”

As a prime example, she cites a horrific incident that occurred the other week in which the trumpet player for the Mavericks, Lorenzo Molina Ruiz, and his friend Orlando Morales, were allegedly violently attacked in a restaurant in Cool Springs, Tennessee, for speaking Spanish. Morales reportedly suffered a broken nose, internal bleeding and a concussion. Ronstadt blames the incident on the atmosphere fanned by the current administration. “As soon as Trump came down that escalator and called Mexican rapists, I said, ‘This is the new Hitler and Mexicans are the new Jews,’” she said.

Ronstadt at the Country Music Association awards show in 1986.



Ronstadt at the Country Music Association awards show in 1986. Photograph: AP

The result has greatly exacerbated feelings of alienation and internalized shame that have long affected Mexican Americans, according to Los Cenzontles founder Eugene Rodriguez. “It’s a deep shame – one we don’t like to talk about,” he said. “It’s something instilled in us by 500 years of colonialism in Mexico.”

Rodriguez feels that teaching young Mexican Americans about the variety and sophistication of that country’s music and art can help heal some of that shame. “If you’re playing with people who are among your community it’s a way to feel empowered and free,” he said. “They can take our land. They can kill us, but they can’t take our culture.”

For Ronstadt, Mexican culture has always been a source of pride. She believes she managed to escape the scourge of internalized prejudice because of her light skin and German surname. (Ronstadt’s great-grandfather immigrated from Germany to Mexico in the 1800s). “People didn’t have a clue I was Mexican unless they grew up with me,” she said.

At the same time, her ability to “pass” means that people felt free to voice their prejudices against Chicanos in front of her. “I heard plenty of it,” she said. “I’d straighten them out fast.”

Ronstadt grew up in a household in Arizona where her extended family always sang Mexican songs. She always yearned to record them but her record company nixed the idea. “I told them, ‘I’ve got all these songs in Spanish and I’m sure they’d be hits,” she said. “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.”

But, she said, the company told her that Joan Baez had already recorded an album in Spanish for the label (Gracias a La Vida in 1974), so she couldn’t. Still, she bided her time. After the singer had giant hits with albums covering American standards in the early 80s, years before it became a significant trend for contemporary singers to do so, she told her record company her plans to cut an all-Mexican work. She said the company’s executives “were horrified. But I had to sing those songs or I was going to die.”

The resulting collection wound up becoming the biggest-selling non-English language album in history. Ronstadt believes that album touched so many people with no experience in this music because the songs have “emotion that’s very accessible. If it worked on me, I figured it would work on other people,” she said.

It was a great relief to Ronstadt to finally sing these songs after years of belting out rock anthems in stadiums. “I was bored with rock’n’roll,” she said. “And I was tired of singing fast songs. I’m a ballad singer. And I like drama and nuance. This music has richer poetic images and more interesting rhythms.”

Ronstadt in 1984.



Ronstadt in 1984. ‘I like to say that Mexicans took German and French music and made it sexy.’ Photograph: AP

The songs she sang on the first of three Mexican records she recorded came from the northern region of Sonora, where her family’s roots lie. “There is a lot of German and French influence there,” she said. “The music uses accordions and German-style brass bands, reinterpreted in a Mexican style. I like to say that Mexicans took German and French music and made it sexy.”

Rodriguez remembers very well hearing Ronstadt’s Mexican music in the 1980s. Many in his community, he says, didn’t know about her heritage at the time, but once they found out, it engendered pride. “All the girls in the neighborhood wanted to sing like Linda,” he said.

Rodriguez first met Ronstadt in the early 1990s, when she came across his students performing. She was deeply impressed by their authentic rendering of traditional music from a land some of them had never seen. “They were playing music for the right reasons, to express their feelings and to connect with their grandparents,” she said. “They’re not performing like trained seals.”

Their work moved her so much, she started bringing her famous friends to see them, including Browne (who wound up writing a song with Rodriguez about the plight of Mexican immigrants titled The Dreamer), Bonnie Raitt and the Chieftains, who took Los Cenzontles on tour with them. The group has also worked with David Hidalgo of Los Lobos, recorded scores of their own albums and produced their own documentaries. Collectively, their work captures the unique experience of Mexicans in America. “Mexican America is like its own country,” said Ronstadt. “We call it Aztlan, after the mythical places where the Aztecs originated from.”

In one of the most wrenching scenes in the film, Rodriguez expresses his anger over the treatment of Chicanos in the US, a feeling Ronstadt shares. “I get especially angry when I see how people are treated when they come up here looking for work, especially the farm workers,” she said. “I challenge any prep school white boy to spend an hour picking strawberries in the full sun where you’re bent over and somebody sprays pesticide on you. And without them, we can’t eat.”

At the same time, the film captures the joy, humor and skill of the music. One moving scene shows a student performing A la Orilla de un Palmar, a song about an orphaned Mexican girl which Ronstadt first heard sung by relatives when she was three. As the student performs the song in the film we see Ronstadt mouthing along with the words. “I don’t sing any more,” she said. “But I’m still involved with music. Los Cenzontles is my musical home now.”


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Letitia Wright On “Black Panther” Without Chadwick Boseman

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Updated 13 minutes ago. Posted 13 minutes ago

“It’s not something I even want to think about.”

The world continues to mourn Chadwick Boseman, the actor and Black Panther star who passed away on August 28 from colon cancer.


Walt Disney Co. / Courtesy of Everett / Everett Collection

In a recent interview with Porter to promote her role in the forthcoming film Death on the Nile, Black Panther co-star Letitia Wright—who previously penned a beautiful and heartbreaking tribute to Boseman—commented on the idea of continuing the Black Panther franchise without Boseman.


Dimitrios Kambouris / Getty Images

Referring to Boseman as “my brother,” she said, “We’re just still mourning Chad, so it’s not something I even want to think about.”


Walt Disney Co. / Courtesy of Everett / Everett Collection

“The thought of doing it without him is kinda strange,” she continued. “We’re just grieving at the moment, so it’s trying to find the light in the midst of it.”


Kevin Tachman / Getty Images

Wright’s comments serve as a reminder that Boseman’s tragic death was an incalculable loss to film and the world and at large—as well as confirmation that, as an actor and public figure, he was truly irreplaceable.

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Samuel L Jackson: ‘A fullness comes upon me every time I land in Africa’ | Television & radio

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From Spike Lee joints to Tarantino thrillers, Star Wars to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Samuel L Jackson has done it all. Last year he was named “Hollywood’s most bankable star”, with films grossing a total of $13bn to date – more than the annual GDP of Iceland. The New York Times has described him as “his own genre”.

And yet, despite having one of the most recognisable faces on the planet, until recently Jackson didn’t know quite where that face had come from. Like many African Americans, he was descended from people who were enslaved, leaving a question mark over his origins. That was until he embarked on a process of genealogy and DNA testing, which led him back to Gabon’s Benga tribe. “A lot of people tried to trace themselves and find out where they came from – all they could find out was maybe a country,” he explains. “So to go through what I went through – to find out what tribal ancestry I had and to be able to step back into – it was a really emotional, satisfying feeling. There’s a fullness that comes upon me, every time I land in Africa. As I step on the ground, everything sort of changes”.

It’s a process chronicled in a new docuseries, Enslaved, currently airing on BBC Two, which Jackson presents alongside broadcaster and Guardian journalist Afua Hirsch and Israeli-Canadian film-maker Simcha Jacobovici. The series juxtaposes Jackson’s journeywith stories of the pride and fighting spirit of many enslaved peoples, with tales of the horrors which took place across the world (one particularly disturbing find is a dungeon inside a church in Ghana, which gave a slave owner direct access to women and children to abuse). We also see the efforts of deep-sea divers, employing 3D and radar technology to recover the wreckage of the estimated 1,000 slave ships at the bottom of the Atlantic.

‘A really emotional, satisfying feeling’ … Jackson during his initiation into the Benga tribe.



‘A really emotional, satisfying feeling’ … Jackson during his initiation into the Benga tribe. Photograph: Jolade Olusanya/BBC/Associated Producers Ltd./Cornelia Street Productions

Jackson and his wife LaTanya Richardson – a stage actor who produced the series – are at home in Los Angeles on a sweltering afternoon, glasses of water loaded with ice, as we discuss somewhere even hotter: Libreville, capital of Gabon, on the west coast of central Africa. Married for 40 years, Richardson was well-placed to observe parallels between her husband and the Gabonese people. “I see some aspects of their culture that he inhabits naturally in his DNA. He loves the sea – he always did – only to find out that these people [the Benga tribe] were beach people, they were people at the edge of the sea. It’s a joy for me to see him in that setting.”

Jackson now holds a Gabonese passport, noting excitedly that the rapper Ludacris, whose wife is from the country, also has one. Richardson had always loved the sea, too, and travelling on ships and boats, but making the programme forced her to consider them in a different light. She picks up her computer and tilts it towards a work of art on the living room wall by black artist Radcliffe Bailey: a boat made of black piano keys, which they call “corrupted beauty”.

While you might not expect a Hollywood star to present a series of this kind, Jackson has always remained in touch with his roots. Born in Washington DC, the 71-year-old was raised by his mother, grandparents and extended family in a black neighbourhood in Chattanooga, Tennessee. He was “born into the Jim Crow era”, says Richardson, a sentence which Jackson finishes “… and grew up listening to the myth of it being gone”.

While a student, Samuel L Jackson was an usher at the 1968 funearl of Martin Luther King in Atlanta.

Awakening … while a student, Jackson was an usher at the 1968 funeral of Martin Luther King in Atlanta. Photograph: Bettmann Archive

After a childhood spent almost exclusively in segregated conditions, he attended the historically black university Morehouse College. A keen proponent of on-campus politics, he was an usher at Martin Luther King’s funeral, and fought against the university’s administration, even going as far as locking board members – including King’s father – in a university building for a day and a half to protest against the running of the college and its curriculum (King Sr was allowed to leave early, owing to chest pains). Jackson was subsequently excluded for two years, during which time he linked up with radical black power figures like Stokeley Carmichael, and landed on the FBI’s radar, who told his mother to get him out of Atlanta before he was killed.

It was while he was at Morehouse that he met Richardson – who studied at another black university, Spelman College. The couple went on to have a daughter, Zoe, now 38. “We’ve been trying to be revolutionary ever since,” he laughs. “We met in a revolutionary situation, and we get involved in revolutionary situations all the time.”

They both speak not of white culture but of “the dominant culture”, and navigating that as black people. Have the couple ever felt like they’ve had to choose between fully being themselves and the wants of the fickle showbiz world, an industry he entered relatively late (his big break, in Pulp Fiction, came at age 45)? “No,” Jackson says authoritatively. “We don’t compromise who we are to do the things we do. It’s imperative that we be who we are. It’s not like we’ve never heard: ‘You’ll never work in this town again.’”

Richardson laughs. “Well you have – I haven’t!” she says, modestly likening herself to “a blue collar worker” compared with Jackson.

“It’s like, ‘Well, let’s see [about never working again]’,” he says, imitating his response to displeased execs.

‘We met in a revolutionary situation’ … the couple at home.



‘We met in a revolutionary situation’ … the couple at home. Photograph: Damon Casarez/The Guardian

“No, he wasn’t ‘Well, let’s see’,” Richardson assures me. “You’re hardcore but you’re not that belligerent without a reason,” she tells Jackson.

“Between her, my daughter and my manager I’ve learned to count to 100 before I press send,” he concedes.

On social media, where he once called the current president a “hemorrhoid”, Jackson admits that he toned down his posts. Not because of his own worries, however, but because of Richardson’s fears about “these radical crazy people online that tell you they’re going to kill you”.

She adds: “When he fights with the orange man, I don’t think that that’s a fight worth having. Obviously he [Trump] is ill, and there is nothing that you’re going to be able to say that he’s even going to hear, unless you just really take him down into the pit of hell’s gutter. But his people hear it and they’re raising flags all the time. And Sam is … you know, you don’t travel with bodyguards. I need him to stay alive!”

Following the killing of George Floyd and the resultant surge in BLM protests, it doesn’t seem an exaggeration to describe next month’s US election as pivotal to the future of race relations in the US. Jackson and Richardson are spending time, says Jackson “encouraging people to become part of the political process” and campaigning online for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, instead of discussing the man he describes as “the idiot in charge”.

“There’s nothing we can do about them, [for example] putting this woman on the Supreme Court [Amy Coney Barrett, Donald Trump’s nominee] – that’s wasted energy,” Jackson says. “What you got to do now is make sure you vote so that that guy is gone. You don’t have to like [Harris and Biden], you don’t have to love them. But we got to get rid of the other person.”

Richardson nods. “The people who are about change are about peaceful protest, and that’s what we have been. But now it’s time to take all that aggression and storm the ballot boxes.”

“And not for Kanye!” Jackson adds firmly, adding that the rapper and would-be presidential candidate is “in the way”.


Though currently focused on the events unfolding in his nation, the making of Enslaved emphasised for them the global scale, and stain, of racial injustice. Jackson came under fire in 2017 for suggesting that black British actors should not play black Americans because they would not understand the racial politics of the nation – comments he himself later described as “highly insensitive”. Today, however, we’re talking not about the differences that exist among members of the African and Caribbean diasporas, but the struggles that have brought them together.

“We [Americans] always tend to think that we’re the most important and we’re the only ones when we talk about slavery,” he says. “But we had less than a third of the people that were captured.” His journey saw him gain a sense of the scale of injustice, even visiting a ceremony in Liverpool where officials apologised for the city’s part in the trade.

However, he says, he never felt more at home than in Gabon. “I feel invigorated by it. And it makes me feel alive in a way that I don’t feel here – it gives me a sense of belonging in a world that I deserve to be in.” And so, someone known by so many, has come to know a bit more about himself.

Enslaved concludes on 25 October on BBC2. Available also on BBC iPlayer.



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