“Linda could literally sing anything,” Dolly Parton says of Rock & Roll Hall of Fame member Linda Ronstadt in the forthcoming documentary, The Sound of My Voice. Featuring new and archival interview footage with Ronstadt and several of her musical collaborators and longtime friends, the film is a stirring reminder of Ronstadt’s vocal prowess across musical genres, made all the more poignant by the singer’s battle with Parkinson’s disease and her subsequent retirement from performing in 2009.
The Sound of My Voice touches on many facets of Ronstadt’s life: her Mexican ancestry, her folk and country beginnings, and her role as one of rock music’s most influential women. It also delves into the unlikely but hugely successful forays into light opera, the Great American Songbook, and one of country music’s most successful collaborative albums of all time, Trio. Musicians who appear in the film include Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne, and songwriter Karla Bonoff.
In the late Eighties, after a decade of trying to coordinate their schedules in order to record and properly promote their long-gestating Trio LP, Ronstadt, longtime friend Emmylou Harris and their idol, Dolly Parton, finally birthed the project that would go on to become one of the most beloved country albums of all time. Trio showcased heavenly harmony and musical kinship, selling over one million copies and earning a Grammy.
In a clip from The Sound of My Voice, Ronstadt remembers receiving a fateful message from Harris, who was living in Los Angeles at the time. “Emmy called me up and said, ‘Dolly Parton’s at my house, you have to come over. I was living, like, 40 minutes away. I got there in 20 minutes.”
“They had this big, ol’ house, almost like a bunch of hippies just livin’ up there,” adds Parton. “It was just a free-for-all kind of house. A dream for musicians.” Parton recalls that when the three were asked to sing something, she began singing the traditional “Bury Me Beneath the Willow,” with Harris and Ronstadt adding individual harmony parts to her lead vocal. “It was just chillin’, chillin’, chillin’,” she notes as a clip of their first televised performance of the song popularized by the Carter Family, taken from Parton’s syndicated music series Dolly! is then shown. “When we heard our voices it was like injectin’ some kind of serum into your veins,” says Parton. “It was like a high like you’ve never felt.”
The Sound of My Voice, directed by Oscar-winning filmmakers Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman (The Times of Harvey Milk, Common Threads: Stories From the Quilt), opens in Los Angeles on September 6th at Arclight Hollywood. It also opens the same day at New York’s Independent Film Forum and the Landmark at 57 West.