Bonnie Raitt is one of the most respected musicians of her generation.
Fans were in uproar in 2023, when she was described as an “unknown blues singer” by some publications, after winning a Grammy Award for Song of the Year, beating the likes of Beyoncé, Taylor Swift and Lizzo.
The American blues singer and guitarist released her self-titled debut album in 1971, and has since brought out several critically acclaimed albums across various genres including blues, rock, folk, and country.
In 1989, after several years of relatively small commercial success, she finally had a major hit with her 10th studio album Nick of Time, including the song of the same name. The album reached number one in America, and won the Grammy Award for Album of the Year.
Her next two albums, Luck of the Draw (1991) and Longing in Their Hearts (1994), were also big successes, and featured several hit singles, including ‘Something to Talk About’, ‘Love Sneakin’ Up On You’, and the ballad ‘I Can’t Make You Love Me’, which was later covered by George Michael.
In 2000, Bonnie was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and she also received the Icon Award from the Billboard Women in Music Awards.
How old is Bonnie Raitt?
Bonnie Raitt was born on November 8, 1949, in Burbank, California. She celebrated her 73rd birthday in 2022.
Her mother, Marge Goddard was a pianist, and her father, John Raitt, was an actor in productions including Oklahoma! and The Pajama Game.
How did Bonnie Raitt get her start in music?
Aged 8 to 15, Bonnie and her brothers attended a summer camp in the Adirondack Mountains called Camp Regis.
Here, Bonnie discovered her musical talents, when camp managers would ask her to play in front of the campers.
As a teenager, she was self-conscious about her weight and her freckles, and used music as an escape from reality: “That was my saving grace. I just sat in my room and played my guitar.”
During her second year of college, she left school for a semester and moved to Philadelphia with other local musicians. She said it was an “opportunity that changed everything.”
In summer 1970, she played with her brother David with Mississippi Fred McDowell at the Philadelphia Folk Festival, and opened for John Hammond at the Gaslight Cafe in New York.
Here, she was spotted by a reporter from Newsweek, who raved about her performance. Major record companies were soon attending her shows to watch her perform.
She accepted an offer from Warner Bros, and soon released her debut album, Bonnie Raitt, in 1971.
Is Bonnie Raitt married and does she have children?
Bonnie Raitt and actor Michael O’Keefe were married in 1991.
However, they announced their divorce on November 9, 1999.
Today, Bonnie Raitt is a music industry veteran, but once upon a time, she was just another 8-year-old kid with a Stella guitar that she got as a Christmas present from her family, according to Raitt’s website. The daughter of two musical Quakers with a history on Broadway, Raitt was born in Burbank and grew up in California, per Britannica.
Her sense of adventure later led her across the country to attend school in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she studied social relations and African studies, but Raitt dropped out of Radcliffe College in 1969 to pursue music. Through some combination of the connections she’d forged hanging around Cambridge’s music scene and sheer luck, she soon found herself opening for famous blues acts, including Son House and John Lee Hooker.
In her own words (via her website), “I’m certain that it was an incredible gift for me to not only be friends with some of the greatest blues people who’ve ever lived, but to learn how they played, how they sang, how they lived their lives, ran their marriages, and talked to their kids.”
Bonnie Raitt breaks into the industry
After she dropped out of Radcliffe, a restless Bonnie Raitt immersed herself in the music industry, specifically the blues scene. She soon enlisted the services of the well-known blues manager Dick Waterman, according to Allmusic. With Waterman’s help, she began sharing a stage with blues dynamos like Fred McDowell, Sippie Wallace, and Howlin’ Wolf.
Even as Raitt was working hard to get started playing music professionally, Raitt was also becoming politically active. She dedicated her time to antiwar and civil rights scenes in Cambridge, per her website, and she continued to be an outspoken liberal activist after she left Radcliffe to tour the country with the elder statesmen of blues. Eventually, as word of mouth on the blues circuit cemented Raitt’s status as a promising up-and-comer, Warner Bros. signed the young red-haired musician to its music label. According to Raitt’s website, her first album was soon to follow that lucky break.
She produces her maiden album
Once she signed with Warner Bros., Raitt was ready to release her first album. Her self-titled debut effort came out soon thereafter, in 1971, per her website, and it was influenced by blues greats like Robert Johnson and Sippie Wallace. To record the album, she traveled to Minnesota, where she spent her weekdays singing blues alongside the band Willie and the Bumblebees. When she wasn’t occupied recording, she could be found by the pool, playing sports, and hanging out with friends, according to The Current.
The end result mixed covers and originals and spanned 11 tracks. While the album later came to be considered artistically successful and influential to future generations of female blues singers, according to Viva Scene, it was a commercial flop. But Raitt was just getting started, and she had a long road ahead of her which would come to include multiple hit singles, at least one top-of-the-charts album, and 10 Grammys.
She stays politically active, just like her parents
Like her parents, Raitt became politically active as an adult. And as she found her musical voice, she also began incorporating her political activism into her musical life. For example, she co-founded Musicians United for Safe Energy, an industry group opposed to the expansion of nuclear energy use, and headlined a benefit concert for the group in 1979, per Britannica.
An outspoken feminist, Raitt also advocated for Black blues musicians whom she felt were underpaid, according to Viva Scene. She reportedly took personal responsibility for correcting that dynamic, paying fairly and providing benefits for the musicians she worked with, but she also became active in the R & B Foundation, which worked to fix royalty policies, recognize blues pioneers, and give out hefty grants to artists. The other causes Raitt has supported over the years include ending wars in Central America, ending apartheid in South Africa, passing environmental protections into law; and securing the legal rights of Native Americans, per Raitt’s website.
Bonnie Raitt and substance use
Despite her involvement in causes she believed in and her strong musical support network, as the years wore on, Bonnie Raitt the road warrior began to show signs of wear. Her drinking caused her to pack on some pounds, as she told The Washington Post in 1989, and it was beginning to affect her music. Her label, Warner, dumped her abruptly around 1983, per Allmusic. All the while, she was struggling to complete records, her collaboration with Prince collapsed, and by the time she forced out the album “Nine Lives” in 1986, some of her fans were bailing, too: The album had the worst sales of any of her records since her self-titled premiere.
“Of course I like to party — that’s why I do this for a living, so I can hang out with cute guys, have a good time and stay up late — but I never did anything that would jeopardize my singing or playing,” Raitt told The Post in 1989. All the same, some of the bluesmen in Raitt’s circles were dropping like flies from too much partying: Lowell George, one former collaborator, died of a heroin overdose. Around the same time, Richard Manuel, Roy Buchanan, Jesse Ed Davis, Paul Butterfield, and John Cippolina died as well. Raitt liked to play “River of Tears” in their honor, but the message their deaths sent was not lost on her.
The turning point for Bonnie Raitt came when the partnership with Prince broke down, according to The Washington Post. First, Raitt hurt her hand in a skiing accident and had to spend two months recuperating. Then, Prince wound up prolonging his European tour, even though he had requested Raitt back out of her own summer tour, with the result that the two of them only worked together for three days total.
“The skiing accident was just debilitating enough with my thumb in a cast so I couldn’t play guitar for a couple of months,” Raitt told The Post. “So here it was: I didn’t have an excuse anymore. A situation was created for me; I asked and it was responded to. People reach a point where they look in the mirror and say I’ve had enough. And let’s face it, I was a latecomer in my circle to cleaning up.”
Raitt began seeing a therapist, and she finally joined Alcoholics Anonymous. Getting sober would ultimately restore her musical focus and put her career back on track, but it was a long journey from there to her first hit record, “Nick of Time,” which came out in 1989.
Bonnie Raitt wins four Grammy Awards
After all her struggles and hard work, 1989 proved a lucky year for Bonnie Raitt and she began to turn things around. That year, in addition to seeing “Nick of Time” become a commercial hit, she took home four Grammy Awards. The first was a Grammy for Album of the Year, which she won with “Nick of Time.” The second was for Best Rock Performance, Female. The third was for Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female, for the title track on her new album. Finally, her duet with John Lee Hooker, “I’m in the Mood,” won a Grammy for Best Traditional Blues Recording.
By the early 1990s, Bonnie Raitt was back in fine form and, in fact, better than ever. She released a retrospective, two-disc live album and two studio albums between 1990 and 1995, according to Britannica. Her two studio albums, “Luck of the Draw” and “Longing in Their Hearts,” both went on to win Grammy Awards.
These successful albums were also being released under a new label. Raitt signed with Capitol Records in 1989, according to her website, allowing her to put out new records with the help of somewhat more reliable partners. It was a satisfying time for Raitt, who had churned out records in her early years but without much recognition or success. Now, by contrast, her albums were going double platinum and receiving the music industry’s highest honor. Raitt was also increasingly working performances by her friends, some of them big names in music, into her albums, creating a series of fruitful collaborations.
She is inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
If the Grammys are the music industry’s most vaunted prize, then induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is perhaps the top accolade for rockers specifically. In 2000, Bonnie Raitt also received that honor.
Joining other legendary performers of her era and generations past, Raitt took the stage after being introduced by Melissa Etheridge, per the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. She proceeded to deliver a firecracker of a speech, peppered with pointedly feminist notes and nods to the direction she wanted to see the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame take with its future choices.
“I’m flabbergasted,” Raitt said upon her induction. “I know I never expected to make a living at this, let alone take a place next to all these legends I’ve watched walk up these stairs. I’d like to thank you so much for holding me in such high esteem … I’m especially proud to be here tonight because of what it says about what you think is important. I’m proud because it’s partly because I don’t just put on an electric guitar, but because I know how to write it. Let’s hope this marks the beginning of lots more women getting out of the kitchen and into the kick-a** fire.”
Bonnie Raitt produces her first album
In 2005, Bonnie Raitt scored another win with her first self-produced album, “Souls Alike.” The album drew positive reviews and ascended into the top 20 on Billboard’s chart. It also moved Raitt to get back on the tour bus and start touring again, according to her website.
Critics applauded Raitt’s “bluesy rock” and willingness to venture into new musical territory. “Throughout, Raitt holds her ground without digging a rut,” Rolling Stone declared. “An adventurous change of pace that stretches Raitt beyond her previous recordings,” raved Billboard (via Metacritic).
Those 11 tracks further extended Raitt’s partnership with Capitol Records, with which she had a happier business relationship than her tenure with Warner. In fact, in September 2022, Raitt’s full Capitol music video catalog was remastered and re-released on her official YouTube channel, per PR Newswire. The 13 music videos were reissued as Raitt’s “Nick of Time” became one of 25 audio recordings included in the 2022 National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress.
She continues her political activism
In the aughts, Bonnie Raitt dove back into a host of liberal causes, from John Kerry’s presidential run to giving Democrats control of the Senate in the 2008 election to environmental and anti-nuclear crusades. According to Raitt’s website, she put on a bunch of benefit concerts intended to engage voters and encourage them to vote for Democrats.
Some of the organizations helped by other concerts around that time were the Nevada Nuclear Waste Task Force, the Native Community Action Council, the Everglades Foundation, Musicians United for Safe Energy, Clean Water Action, the Center for Media and Democracy, and more, per Center in the Square. Raitt, who has said she puts citizenship before even music, is also involved with the Guacamole Fund, a nonprofit that links entertainers with left-leaning causes that aim to bring about environmental and social change through benefit concerts and other events held in tandem with media campaigns.
Her ‘Slipstream’ becomes top-selling indie album
Following some time away from recording and performing music, Bonnie Raitt returned in 2012 with “Slipstream,” an intense production put out under the Redwing Records label, according to her website. The 12 tracks meld blues, funk, and rock and feature some of Raitt’s acclaimed slide-guitar playing.
“Slipstream captures the kind of barnstorming fervor that can turn in the space of a song into a slow boil, [a] roiling storm of emotions,” NPR marveled upon the record’s release. “She has the guile and shrewdness of a long-time pro, but it’s the purity of this beautiful mongrel music that gives it its great life.”
“Slipstream,” which Raitt co-produced with Joe Henry, swiftly sold over a quarter of a million copies, becoming one of the year’s top-grossing indie albums. It also won Raitt another Grammy Award for Best Americana Album. Raitt began touring again following the album’s release, traveling North America, Europe, Singapore, Australia, and New Zealand before returning home to play the Kennedy Center Honors.
COVID-19 strikes close to home for Bonnie Raitt
When COVID-19 hit, Bonnie Raitt lost some close friends and collaborators, including John Prine, with whom she had spent a significant chunk of the previous year working, according to her website. The country-folk artist, who died at age 73 due to complications from COVID-19, was one of the many musicians we lost in 2020. Raitt recorded a video message mourning her friend the following day, per People.
“I’m having more time to just lay around and read and cook and do all those things I always wished I could do if I had more time,” Raitt said in her opening remarks. “Of course, the reason we’re doing this is heartbreaking, and I’m hoping that we’re going to be coming out of this with lessons learned and appreciating what we have.”
The fact that Raitt was doing things she’d always said she would if she just had more time while her friend had run out of time seemed to be weighing heavily on Raitt, who spoke with sadness in her voice on the video. But she went on to sing the Karla Bonoff song “Home” in Prine’s honor.
Bonnie Raitt releases ‘Just Like That’
In 2022, Bonnie Raitt released the 18th studio album of her career, “Just Like That.” She had spent the pandemic sending her money to and performing for Democratic causes, she told Variety in April 2022, but when she finally got the chance to go out on the road again to support the new album, she felt liberated. Live music, she said, was the medicine people needed after hunkering down in fear for two years and seeing friends and loved ones die.
Raitt’s latest effort mixes old-fashioned blues with 21st-century political consciousness, a fusion of different worlds that evokes Raitt’s own identity. She comes at it from a place of wisdom — not only about her music, but also about life, having been sober for more than three decades.
“I think it’s been really important to have set my compass and set my sail for some higher purpose, and that I try to allow myself some slack and cheat days and all that and forgive myself when I mess up,” Raitt told Variety. “And what’s important is perspective, allowing yourself enough time to have fun and be out in nature and appreciate life and not be so career- or goal-oriented. You don’t care what people think about you as much.”
Raised in Los Angeles in a climate of respect for the arts, Quaker traditions, and a commitment to social activism. A Stella guitar given to her as a Christmas present launched Bonnie on her creative journey at the age of eight. While growing up, though passionate about music from the start, she never considered that it would play a greater role than as one of her many growing interests.
With Just Like That…, her twenty-first album and her first new release in more than six years, Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Bonnie Raitt continues to draw on the range of influences that have shaped her legendary career, while creating something that speaks to the circumstances and challenges of these unprecedented times.
The title comes from a line in one of her new original songs (“Just like that your life can change”), which seemed especially fitting “because there’s never been a time that made me look around and say, ‘Nobody saw this coming’—where all of a sudden, everything shifted.”
As her own tour following 2016’s acclaimed Dig In Deep album was winding down, Raitt got a call from with her friend James Taylor inviting her to hit the road on a bill together. Their tour dates were extended multiple times (even taking them to Europe, concluding with a show alongside Paul Simon in London’s Hyde Park). They were planning to keep going when the world shut down in March 2020.
She did her best to continue playing online fundraisers around the election, social justice, and environmental issues during the pandemic, and when it looked like things were opening up in the summer of 2021, Raitt brought her band to Northern California to rehearse and, for the first time, to record closer to where she lives. “I’ve always wanted to make a record here, and once vaccinations made traveling safe again, we were thrilled to get everyone back together,” says the ten-time Grammy winner. “I think the absolute joy and relief of reuniting to play live music is really palpable on this record.”
The mix of sounds and approaches on Just Like That…reveals how, fifty years after the release of her debut album, Bonnie Raitt continues to personify what it means to stay creative, adventurous, and daring over the course of a life’s work. “On this record, I wanted to stretch,” she says. “I always want to find songs that excite me, and what’s different this time is that I’ve tried some styles and topics I haven’t touched on before.”
The album’s biggest surprises come from the four songs composed by Raitt. “Living for the Ones,” co-written with her longtime guitarist George Marinelli, is a rocking dedication to the friends and family she has lost in recent years, while the funky, sardonic “Waitin’ for You to Blow” about the devil on Recovery’s shoulder, is equal parts Mose Allison, Eddie Harris, and ‘70s funk. “There’s something thrilling about creating something brand new out of feelings and styles that have always run so deep in me,” she says.
Two songs were inspired by real-life scenarios; “Down the Hall” began when Raitt read a New York Times story a few years ago about a prison hospice program, and the album’s title track was sparked by a local news segment showing two families deeply impacted on both sides of an organ donation. “My heart was just so blown open,” she says. “I knew both times that these were what I wanted to write about.”
More than just a best-selling artist, respected guitarist, expressive singer, and accomplished songwriter, Bonnie Raitt has become an institution in American music. Born to a musical family, the ten-time Grammy winner, who Rolling Stone named as both one of the “100 Greatest Singers of All Time” and one of the “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time,” is the daughter of celebrated Broadway singer John Raitt (Carousel, Oklahoma!, The Pajama Game) and accomplished pianist/singer Marge Goddard. She was raised in Los Angeles in a climate of respect for the arts, Quaker traditions, and a commitment to social activism. A Stella guitar given to her as a Christmas present launched Bonnie on her creative journey at the age of eight. While growing up, though passionate about music from the start, she never considered that it would play a greater role than as one of her many growing interests.
In the late ’60s, restless in Los Angeles, she moved east to Cambridge, Massachusetts. As a Harvard/Radcliffe student majoring in Social Relations and African Studies, she attended classes and immersed herself in the city’s turbulent cultural and political activities. “I couldn’t wait to get back to where there were folkies and the antiwar and civil rights movements,” she says. “There were so many great music and political scenes going on in the late ’60s in Cambridge.” Also, she adds with a laugh, “the ratio of guys to girls at Harvard was four to one, so all of those things were playing in my mind.”
Raitt was already deeply involved with folk music and the blues at that time. Exposure to the album Blues at Newport 1963 at age 14 had kindled her interest in blues and slide guitar, and between classes at Harvard she explored these and other styles in local coffeehouse gigs. Three years after entering college, Bonnie left to commit herself full-time to music, and shortly afterward found herself opening for surviving giants of the blues. From Mississippi Fred McDowell, Sippie Wallace, Son House, Muddy Waters, and John Lee Hooker, she learned first-hand lessons of life, as well as invaluable techniques of performance.
“I’m certain that it was an incredible gift for me to not only be friends with some of the greatest blues people who’ve ever lived, but to learn how they played, how they sang, how they lived their lives, ran their marriages, and talked to their kids,” she says. “I was especially lucky as so many of them are no longer with us.”
Word spread quickly of the young red-haired blueswoman, her soulful, unaffected way of singing, and her uncanny insights into blues guitar. Warner Bros. tracked her down, signed her up, and in 1971 released her debut album, Bonnie Raitt. Her interpretations of classic blues by Robert Johnson and Sippie Wallace made a powerful critical impression, but the presence of intriguing tunes by contemporary songwriters, as well as several examples of her own writing, indicated that this artist would not be restricted to any one pigeonhole or style.
Over the next seven years she would record six albums. Give It Up, Takin’ My Time, Streetlights, and Home Plate were followed in 1977 by Sweet Forgiveness, which featured her first hit single, a gritty Memphis/R&B arrangement of Del Shannon’s “Runaway.” Three Grammy nominations followed in the 1980s, as she released The Glow, Green Light, and Nine Lives. A compilation of highlights from these Warner Bros. albums (plus two previously unreleased live duets) was released as The Bonnie Raitt Collection in 1990. All of these Warner albums have been digitally remastered and re-released.
In between sessions, when not burning highways on tour with her band, she devoted herself to playing benefits and speaking out in support of an array of worthy causes, campaigning to stop the war in Central America; participating in the Sun City anti-apartheid project; performing at the historic 1980 No Nukes concerts at Madison Square Garden; co-founding MUSE (Musicians United for Safe Energy); and working for environmental protection and for the rights of women and Native Americans.
After forging an alliance with Capitol Records in 1989, Bonnie achieved new levels of popular and critical acclaim. She won four Grammy Awards in 1990—three for her Nick of Time album and one for her duet with John Lee Hooker on his breakthrough album The Healer. Within weeks, Nick of Time shot to number one (it is now certified quintuple platinum). Luck of the Draw (1991, seven-times platinum) brought even more success, firing two hit singles—”Something to Talk About” and “I Can’t Make You Love Me”—up the charts, and adding three more Grammys to her shelf.
The double-platinum Longing in Their Hearts, released in 1994, featured the hit single “Love Sneakin’ Up On You” and was honored with a Grammy for Best Pop Album. It was followed in 1995 by the live double-CD and film Road Tested (now available on DVD). Along with her own set, it features duets with Bryan Adams, Jackson Browne, Bruce Hornsby, Ruth Brown, Charles Brown, and Kim Wilson.
After all the awards and honors and decades of virtually non-stop touring under her belt, Bonnie continued her activism and guesting on numerous friends’ records, including Ruth Brown, Charles Brown, Keb’ Mo, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, and Bruce Cockburn, as well as tribute records for Richard Thompson, Lowell George, and Pete Seeger. She picked up another Grammy in 1996 for Best Rock Instrumental Performance for her collaboration on “SRV Shuffle” from the all-star Tribute to Stevie Ray Vaughan, and continued her “dual career,” performing with her father, John, in concerts as well as on his Grammy-nominated album, Broadway Legend, released in 1995.
In 1998, she returned to the studio with a new collaborative team to create Fundamental, one of her most exploratory projects, signaling her growing desire to “shake things up a bit.” Inspired by the music of Zimbabwean world-beat master Oliver Mtukudzi, Bonnie wrote “One Belief Away,” the first single, with Paul Brady and Dillon O’Brian.
In March of 2000, Bonnie was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; this was followed by her welcome into the Hollywood Bowl Hall of Fame, along with her father, in June 2001.
After the Fundamental tour, she went back into the studio with her veteran road band to record Silver Lining, released in 2002. Featuring Bonnie’s stunning interpretation of the David Gray-penned title track, the Grammy-nominated “Gnawin’ On It,” and the hit single “I Can’t Help You Now,” Silver Lining was considered by many critics to be one of the best albums of her career. She promoted the album with a lengthy world tour that included her Green Highway Festival and an eco-partnership promoting BioDiesel fuel, the environment, and alternative energy solutions at shows and benefits along the way. In 2003, she released the retrospective The Best of Bonnie Raitt on Capitol.
Raitt stayed busy with more guest appearances, including the stunning duet “Do I Ever Cross Your Mind” on Ray Charles’ final release Genius Loves Company, which won the Grammy award for Album of the Year, and a duet on the Grammy-winning album True Love by Toots & The Maytals. Her 1989 breakthrough album Nick of Time was remixed for surround sound, and released by Capitol Records in 2004 as a DVD-Audio, garnering a Grammy nomination in the newly created category, Best Surround Sound Album.
In 2003, she also participated in Martin Scorsese’s acclaimed PBS series, The Blues, performing two songs in Wim Wenders’ film, The Soul of a Man, and joining the all-star cast of Lightning in a Bottle, the live feature concert film on the Blues directed by Antoine Fuqua. She also contributed songs for two Disney movies, The Country Bears and Home on the Range. She played guitar on a track on Stevie Wonder’s 2005 album A Time To Love, and appeared in the TV/DVD tribute Music l0l: Al Green.
Souls Alike, her first album ever to bear the credit “Produced by Bonnie Raitt,” debuted at #19 on the Billboard 200 in 2005, eliciting widespread critical acclaim and propelling Raitt back onto the road. She was also selected as the inaugural artist for the VH1 Classic Decades Rock Live! CD/DVD series. Bonnie Raitt and Friends, featuring Norah Jones, Ben Harper, Alison Krauss and Keb’ Mo’, was released in 2006.
In the years in and around the release of Souls Alike, she co-headlined (with Jackson Browne and Keb Mo’) part of the historic “Vote For Change” tour leading up to the 2004 Presidential election, and then for the 2008 election, she staged a series of benefit concerts and fundraising receptions to help get out the vote and encourage voting in key Democratic Senate races. In 2007, Bonnie joined her MUSE (Musicians United for Safe Energy) friends Jackson Browne and Graham Nash to launch a campaign to prevent the legislative bailout of the nuclear industry and developed nukefree.org, a website that serves as an information and networking hub for safe energy activists. In 2011, MUSE mounted a very successful benefit concert at Shoreline Amphitheatre to raise funds for Japan disaster relief (following the devastating earthquake, tsunami and meltdown of the Daichi-Fukushima nuclear reactors earlier in the year), as well as non-nuclear organizations worldwide.
Bonnie continues to use her influence to affect the way music is perceived and appreciated in the world. In 1988, she was one of the co-founders of the Rhythm and Blues Foundation, which works to improve royalties, financial conditions, and recognition for a whole generation of R&B pioneers to whom she feels we owe so much. In 1995, she initiated the Bonnie Raitt Guitar Project with the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, currently running in 200 clubs around the world, to encourage underprivileged youth to play music as budgets for music instruction in the schools run dry. Bonnie sits on the Advisory or Honorary Boards of a number of organizations, including Little Kids Rock, Rainforest Action Network, Music Maker Relief Foundation, and the Arhoolie Foundation.
Her commitment to the redemptive power of music is expressed in the foreword she wrote to American Roots, the book based on 2001’s PBS series of the same name. “I feel strongly that this appreciation needs to be out there so that black, Latino and all kids can understand the roots of their own musical heritage,” she explains. “The consolidation of the music business has made it difficult to encourage styles like the blues, all of which deserve to be celebrated as part of our most treasured national resources.”
The years before and after Souls Alike weren’t an easy time for Raitt, with the passing of parents, her brother, and a best friend. So after following that album with her usual long run of touring—winding up with the “dream come true” of the “BonTaj Roulet” collaborative, R&B-style revue with Taj Mahal in 2009 (which raised over $200,000 for charity) and a triumphant appearance at the all-star Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 25th anniversary concerts the same year—she decided to step back and recharge for a while. Excited to have time at home and with her family and friends, she explored different kinds of music as a listener, while continuing her ongoing political work, helping to organize NukeFree.org and supporting her favorite non-profit organizations.
When she returned to the studio—first in a series of sessions with producer Joe Henry and then serving as producer herself—the result was the triumphant Slipstream. After spending her career split between Warner Bros and Capitol Records, she ventured out on her own with a label called Redwing Records. The album sold over a quarter-million copies in 2012, making it one of the top-selling independent albums, and earned Raitt her tenth Grammy Award, for Best Americana Album. From the New York Times to People Magazine, Slipstream was also lauded in numerous critics’ lists for album of the year.
Raitt played over 170 shows in North America, Singapore, Australia/New Zealand, the UK and Europe on her 2012-2013 Slipstream Tour, made numerous national TV appearances, performed at the 2012 Kennedy Center Honors, and received the Lifetime Achievement Award for Performance from the Americana Music Association.
Raitt notes that, more than anything, what struck her about the reaction she received when she returned to the stage was the range and diversity of her audience. “My fans stay loyal and stand up and cheer and love ‘Angel from Montgomery,’ but I feel like we built a whole new audience with the younger Americana generation,” she says. “It’s very gratifying to know that there’s some traction there—that it wasn’t just a couple of songs on the radio around ‘Nick of Time’ or ‘Something to Talk About’ or ‘I Can’t Make You Love Me.’ What’s going on with music now, in terms of roots music, is the harvest of what we did in the ’60s and ’70s. It’s thrilling to be around at this time. I feel part of a continuum.”
With 2016’s Dig In Deep, Raitt kept things focused and close to home. Feeling that her recent tour was one of her best ever, she was eager to get her touring band back in the studio. She again produced the album herself, and notably, she had writing credits on five of the album’s songs—the most original compositions she contributed to a record since 1998’s Fundamental. The accolades continued to accumulate; in 2017, Raitt was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Guitar Museum, and In 2018, she received the People’s Voice Award from the Folk Alliance International in recognition of her activism.
As COVID ravaged the world, Raitt suffered the loss of several close friends and colleagues, including Toots Hibbert and John Prine. In fact, she had spent much of the previous year with Prine, performing at the ceremony when he was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame and on the Grammy celebration of his receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award. She appears on the compilation released by Prine’s label, Oh Boy Records, in October 2021—one of the more than 185 outside projects on which Bonnie has participated as a special guest over the years, including work with friends, on soundtracks, and for special benefit albums. Among the highlights are duets with John Lee Hooker, B.B. King, John Raitt, Aretha Franklin, Willie Nelson, Tony Bennett, and Ray Charles. (For a complete list of recorded collaborations, please visit bonnieraitt.com/music/guest-discography/.)
Twenty-one albums in, Bonnie Raitt has never felt more grateful that she can continue making music, contributing to causes, keeping her crew working, connecting with her audience. “I’m really aware of how lucky I am and I feel like my responsibility is to get out there and say something fresh and new—for me and for the fans,” she says. “It’s really daunting not to repeat yourself, but I have to have something to say, or I wouldn’t put out a record.”
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Broken Hearts & Dirty Windows: Songs of John Prine, Vol. 2, the anticipated new John Prine tribute record from Oh Boy Records, is out today. Stream/purchase HERE.
Created as a celebration of Prine’s life and career, the album features new renditions of some of Prine’s most beloved songs performed by Brandi Carlile (“I Remember Everything”), Tyler Childers (“Yes I Guess They Oughta Name A Drink After You”), Iris DeMent (“One Red Rose”), Emmylou Harris (“Hello In There”), Jason Isbell (“Souvenirs”), Valerie June (“Summer’s End”), Margo Price (“Sweet Revenge”), Bonnie Raitt (“Angel From Montgomery”), Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats (“Pretty Good”), Amanda Shires (“Saddle in the Rain”), Sturgill Simpson(“Paradise”) and John Paul White (“Sam Stone”). Proceeds from the album will benefit twelve different non-profit organizations, one selected by each of the featured artists.
Bonnie Raitt - Write Me a Few of Your Lines/Kokomo Blues
60 years anniversary celebration of Arhoolie
December 10, 2020
Arhoolie Foundation celebrates it's 60th anniversary (1960-2020) with an online broadcast.
Bonnie Raitt - Shadow of Doubt
Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival
October 3, 2020
Hardly Strictly Bluegrass celebrates it's 20th anniversary with an online broadcast titled “Let The Music Play On”.
Bonnie Raitt & Boz Scaggs - You Don't Know Like I Know
Farm Aid 2020 On the Road
Sam & Dave classic written by Isaac Hayes and David Porter.
Sheryl Crow & Bonnie Raitt - Everything Is Broken
[Eric Clapton’s Crossroads 2019]
Eric Clapton, one of the world’s pre-eminent blues/rock guitarists, once again summoned an all-star team of six-string heroes for his fifth Crossroads Guitar Festival in 2019. Held at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas, the two-day concert event raised funds for the Crossroads Centre in Antigua, the chemical dependency treatment and education facility that Clapton founded in 1998.
'A Tribute To Mose Allison'
Celebrates The Music Of An Exciting Jazz Master
Raitt contributed to a new album, If You're Going To The City: A Tribute To Mose Allison, which celebrates the late singer and pianist, who famously blended the rough-edged blues of the Mississippi Delta with the 1950s jazz of New York City.
NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro talks to Bonnie Raitt about her friendship with the Mose Allison. They're also joined by Amy Allison — his daughter, who executive produced the album — about selecting an unexpected list of artists to contribute songs to the album.
Recorded on tour June 3, 2017 - Centennial Hall, London - Ontario Canada