It would have been nearly impossible for Bonnie Raitt to not be born with musical talent. Her father, John Raitt, was an actor and singer who frequently performed in Broadway musicals. Her mother, Marge Goddard, was an accomplished singer and pianist.
Young Bonnie was playing guitar by the time she was eight. By the time she got to high school, she had become fascinated with slide guitar, and blues music.
It wasn't music, but social activism that prompted Raitt to enroll in Harvard's Radcliffe College in 1967. A chance meeting with a prominent blues promoter led her to blues clubs in Boston and Philadelphia, where she performed with legends like Howlin' Wolf
, Mississippi Fred McDowell
and Sippie Wallace
It was while she was opening for McDowell in a New York City club in 1970 that she came to the attention of Warner Bros. and landed her first record deal. Up until then, Raitt had considered music to be just one of the many things she was interested in. Now, it was going to be her career.
Her self-titled debut release in 1971, and the next four that followed, were highly praised by critics, but had only moderate to mediocre sales success. It was 1977's Sweet Forgiveness
, her sixth album, that finally established her with the music-buying public, primarily on the strength of her cover of "Runaway" (which had been a #1 hit for its co-writer, Del Shannon
, in 1961.)
Her next two albums made it to the Top 40, but in 1983, she was one of several prominent artists (Van Morrison
and Arlo Guthrie
were also on the list) who Warner Bros. decided to drop from their roster. Not only was she without a label, she was increasingly having problems with drug and alcohol abuse. In 1986, Warner Bros. decided to release a revised version of the album Raitt was recording when she was cut, but Nine Lives
failed both with critics and the public.
By 1989, Raitt had kicked drugs and alcohol and released Nick Of Time
, the first of a string of multi-platinum albums through the '90s.
To date she has won nine Grammy Awards. She was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
in 2000. She landed smack in the middle (#50) of Rolling Stone
magazine's 100 Greatest Singers Of All Time.
Throughout her career, Raitt has lived the blues about which she sings. She was very close to fellow blues artist Stevie Ray Vaughan
, who she credits as the primary force in helping her kick drugs and alcohol. Vaughan's death in 1990 in a helicopter crash came just as Raitt was beginning to revive her career.
Raitt and actor Michael O'Keefe were married in 1991, divorced in 1999.
In 2009, Raitt took a break from recording and touring after her brother, Steve died of brain cancer. Not long before that, a close friend and fellow musician, Stephen Bruton
had died, as had both of Raitt's parents. "It was not a relaxing time," she told USA Today
. "It was a transformational time, and it was necessary."
She has continued to be an activist throughout her career, lending her support to a variety of social and political issues. And she has continued touring and recording. Her 16th studio album, Slipstream
was released in April 2012.