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Bonnie Raitt To Be Awarded Third Harvard Arts Medal

on February 27, 1997 No comments

by Steve Morse
The Boston Globe
May 5, 1997


The sassy singer has become a multiple Grammy winner and a leading social activist.

At first Bonnie Raitt was stunned when she received the news that she would receive this year’s Harvard Arts Medal, honoring a Harvard or Radcliffe graduate who has made an outstanding contribution to the arts.
“‘What’s that about ?'” Raitt recalls thinking when she got the phone call.

“It’s not that Harvard needs help with their endowment.But then I realized that sometimes it is important to accept that you’re a role model…so I’m pretty excited about getting it.”

Raitt, a 1972 graduate of the Cambridge,, wasn’t always a role model. In those days, she once was the fire captain of her then female-only dormitory and called a fire-drill in the middle of the night, flushing out a number of men who had sneaked in. “There was a bunch of naked guys standing out with blankets on the fire escape. You know they were illegally in the rooms and were out there freezing,” says Raitt. “That’s one of my great memories.”
The sassy Raitt has since become a multiple Grammy winner and a leading social activist. And,while she’s proud to receive the Harvard medal, she’s retaining a sense of humor about it.
“I can’t even believe this is happening!” she says. “But I guess I’ll believe it when I go to the president’s luncheon or something. I can’t believe I’m getting away with it.”

Raitt is only the third recipient of the award, which is now given annually. The first went to folk singer Pete Seeger (class of 1940), the second to actor Jack Lemmon (class of 1947).
Raitt, of course, has more serious memories of her Radcliffe days than just fire-drill antics. The late ’60s and early ’70s forged the social consciousness for which she’s better known. “It was a real fertile time to be in Cambridge,” she says. “I have incredible memories of that era because of all the passions involved–the feminism that came on the heels of the race riots and primarily the (Vietnam) war that galvanized people.
“Today is a more cynical time. It’s harder to get people motivated because they hear of the sleepovers at the Lincoln bedroom and see the limos at AIDS benefits. But you can’t get discouraged.”

Raitt is coming off a year in which she stayed out of the limelight. She won seven Grammy awards in the ’90s and toured constantly, but after her 1995 tour (which sparked the fine live album “Road Tested”), she took a well-deserved break. She vacationed in Hawaii, New Zealand, and Ireland. She practiced yoga, attended to her marriage with actor Michael O’Keefe, and unplugged from the fast lane. “I don’t need to promote my own product all the time,” she says. “I actually have a whole wide range of interests. I call it just living a life. When people say I took a hiatus, it was just a hiatus from the Bonnie Raitt machine thing.
“I had been really busy for a while. Going back and forth across the country was what I had to do for a living. Now I have the luxury of being able to do other stuff. Also, if you work all the time, you get burned out. It’s important to take some time to fill up. Except for a couple of years when I was in the studio, I had been out for 25 years without a break.”

Bonnie Raitt Reveals the Emotional Story Behind Her Grammy-Winning Song ‘Just Like That’

Raitt has been back performing since last fall–not to push product, but to promote social causes. She recently did a series of benefits with Jackson Browne for the environment and for Native American rights in Idaho, California, and Idaho. She was part of a benefit for a drug program for teenagers in San Francisco. And she continues to help various legislators, including Massachusetts state Senator Lois Pines of Newton, who is running for lieutenant governor. Raitt will do a fund-raiser for her at Harvard’s Fogg Museum.
“I kind of tagged that on there to my weekend in Cambridge,” says Raitt. “It’s for 300 people. I do these things a lot. When I’m in certain towns, I’ll tag something on. And Lois knew I was coming in…I’m just playing four or five songs. It’s mostly a buffet reception, one of those high-ticket parties.”

Raitt also has been busy making guest appearances on friends’ albums. She sang or played guitar on discs by Maria Muldaur, Tracy Nelson, Bruce Cockburn, Keb’ Mo, Joe Louis Walker,and Ruth Brown.
As to the future, Raitt is writing and gathering songs for her next album, which she’ll record in the summer. She may also attend the Newport R&B Festival July 26 and 27. She’s a prominent member of the Rhythm & Blues Foundation, which oversees the event and gives the annual Pioneer Awards.

Raitt doesn’t expect to tour officially until next spring–and she’s looking to ease back from the amphitheaters she played for most of the last several years.
“I may be playing multiple nights at smaller theaters,” she says. “That’s my hope. I don’t mind playing the sheds, but I know it’s hard on the fans to connect there. And my natural arena would be about 3.000 people at the moment. I think that’s just more fun.
“I want to get back to scaling it down a little bit again. And I think the audience would appreciate it, too.”

But first comes her Harvard weekend. And don’t be surprised if you see her riding a bicycle around town when she’s not meeting the president and receiving the arts medal.
“That’s how I used to go to classes,” she says. “And I used to ride out to Fresh Pond and around Brattle Street. I loved it.”

Source: © Copyright The Harvard University Gazette

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