The First Lady of Modern Guitar, Bonnie Raitt was born in 1949 in Los Angeles, the daughter of Broadway and Hollywood musical star, John Raitt. Bonnie's first guitar at age eight was her Christmas wish. Show folk or not, the Raitts were Quakers who believed in working for 'causes.' Thus were set her life's two courses: music and social activism.
As a 1960s Radcliffe student, Bonnie Raitt became involved in the antiwar and civil rights movements. She also performed around town, meeting old-timer blues musicians who changed her fate. They did not merely teach her to play slide guitar; they introduced her to authentic Mississippi Delta blues, which became her passion and signature musical genre. She left school after three years to play music full-time. Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Sippie Wallace and others became mentors, professional associates, and close personal friends with Bonnie throughout their lives. Mississippi Fred McDowell worked with her on bottleneck guitar. Today, she is a virtuoso. But even as she developed her playing and performing style, Bonnie devoted time to causes - environmental, minority rights, and more. She kept up a rugged pace for the next two decades, a never-ending round of benefits, performances, touring, and recording.
Bonnie Raitt had six gold records to her credit by the 1970s and three Grammy nominations in the 1980's. Her guitar work was acknowledged as masterful. Her singing was distinctive too, a strong voice 'pouring on like honey' as one critic described. She had branched out musically , and her style evolved into a fusion based on her beloved blues, some hard rock, sweet pop, and countrified melodies. But the pace was killing her and, though she had her share of devotees, her career never brought her into the popular consciousness as her unique talent deserved. For years she battled alcohol and drug problems.
And that's where the blues can make or break you. In Bonnie's case, she cleaned up her act literally and figuratively, arriving supercharged into the last decade of the 20th century. She recorded the quintuple platinum NICK OF TIME, winning three Grammys: Album of the Year, Best Female Rock Vocals, Best Traditional Blues Song. The same year, she won a Grammy for a duet with John Lee Hooker. In 1991, she earned three more Grammies from the album LUCK OF THE DRAW (Album of the Year) and for two singles that finally made Bonnie a household name: 'Something To Talk About' and 'I Can't Make You Love Me.' Grammy #8 came in 1994 for LONGING IN THE HEART, Best Pop Album, and #9 in 1996 for Best Rock Instrumental Performance on an all-star tribute album to Stevie Ray Vaughan.
Her touring has slowed since a 1991 marriage to Irish actor/poet Michael O'Keefe. She bikes and hikes. Bonnie Raitt is now a Superstar, inducted into Rock and Roll's Hall of Fame in 2000. Her new releases are anticipated. All ages buy tickets to her concerts. She has guested on over 100 albums for musician friends, and is working on collaborations with African musicians. With her dazzling smile and flowing mane of red hair with silver shock, she appears to possess the secret of eternal youth. Perhaps she does. It's called a guitar.
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