With the recent announcement that Linda Ronstadt would be a 2019 Kennedy Center honoree, the affectionate documentary portrait “Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice” makes for a timely opportunity, in advance of the December ceremony, to recall why the 73-year-old singer is getting the award.
The Kennedy Center’s recognition of lifetime achievement — among the most prestigious prizes in the performing-arts world — is certainly well-deserved, as evidenced by the many live-performance clips of Ronstadt (who retired from performing in 2009 because of Parkinson’s disease), and the parade of laudatory reminiscences from the likes of fellow artists Jackson Browne, Emmylou Harris, Dolly Parton, Bonnie Raitt and J.D. Souther, along with the professional assessments of Cameron Crowe and other music journalists.
The film also reminds us how outspoken Ronstadt was — and is — about her liberal views, including an old interview with an entertainment reporter who seems genuinely astonished by how direct Ronstadt is in response to a question about her politics.
If there’s one drawback to “The Sound of My Voice,” it’s that Ronstadt declined to sit down with the film’s directors, Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, for interviews that might have showcased more of such frank talk. Instead, she merely narrates the film, delivering a somewhat unspontaneous-sounding, disembodied voice-over that carries us from her childhood in Tuscon, Ariz., to her stellar career in Los Angeles.
Ronstadt appears on camera for only a couple of brief contemporary shots at the beginning of the film, and then for a short bit at the end, when the singer, whose father was of Mexican descent, haltingly accompanies two family members in a rendition of a traditional Mexican song. (Her 1987 album of Mariachi music, “Canciones de Mi Padre,” went double-platinum, and it helps illustrate Ronstadt’s wide range.) “This isn’t really singing,” Ronstadt says, self-effacingly. “Believe me, it’s a few notes, sketched in, but it isn’t really singing.”
There’s no need for her to apologize, as “The Sound of My Voice” makes resoundingly clear.