Bonnie Raitt Biography

Singer, Songwriter, Activist, Activist, Guitarist (1949–)
Bonnie Raitt is a singer, songwriter, and guitarist whose musical range encompasses blues, folk, rhythm and blues, pop, and country rock.


Bonnie Raitt’s first few albums largely comprised traditional blues material and introduced Raitt's supple phrasing, feminist stance, and abilities as a slide guitarist. Her career declined somewhat in the 1980s as she struggled with alcoholism but soared again when her 1989 release, Nick of Time, reached the top of the charts. She was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000.

Early Career

Bonnie Lynn Raitt was born in Los Angeles, California, on November 8, 1949, to Broadway singer John Raitt and pianist Marge Goddard. The daughter of bohemian parents, Raitt was raised in the Quaker tradition and from an early age showed an interest in social activism as well as music. When she was only 8 years old, the soon-to-be blues musician was given a Stella guitar for Christmas. Despite her natural talent for the instrument, Raitt had a wide variety of interests as a teenager.

Raitt headed to the East Coast for college at Radcliffe, eager to leap into the social turmoil of the 1960s. She once said, "I couldn't wait to get back to where there were folkies and the antiwar and Civil Rights movements. There were so many great music and political scenes going on in the late '60s in Cambridge."

Alongside her interest in social issues of the day, Raitt kept up with her music and often played at local coffeehouses between classes, fine-tuning her signature style — a gritty, passionate voice coupled with skillful interpretations on the bottleneck guitar. Soon a staple of the Boston folk-and-blues circuit, she met blues promoter Dick Waterman, who would in turn introduce her to the likes of Sippie Wallace, Son House and Muddy Waters. It wasn't long before her reputation and insights into the blues guitar attracted the attention of record executives at Warner Bros.

By 1971, Raitt had released her self-titled debut album, which consisted mostly of carefully chosen covers. Her contemporary interpretations of songs like Del Shannon's "Runaway" and others by Randy Newman, John Prine and Eric Kaz impressed critics who hailed her as a prodigy. Despite her newfound status as a critical darling, Raitt struggled to find commercial success. It wasn't until 1977's Sweet Forgiveness that the singer had a hit. Soon thereafter, Warner Bros. and Columbia Records were locked in a bidding war to sign the rising star.

In the early 1980s, Raitt played a number of benefits that appealed to her long-held Quaker ideals. From nuclear war to apartheid, the guitarist would play for hundreds of causes throughout the years. She would go on to share bills with the likes of the Doobie Brothers, James Taylor and Jackson Browne.

Commercial Success

Still lacking the commercial success to match her critical acclaim, Raitt continued to experiment musically. It wasn't until 1989 that she would really make her commercial breakthrough. Working with a new label (Capitol Records), Raitt hit her stride, smoothing out the kinks in her style to strike a successful balance between commercial and critical success. Nick of Time earned the songstress three Grammy Awards in 1990, and she won another award for a duet with John Lee Hooker. The album rose all the way to the top of the charts, selling four million copies. Three years later, Raitt and producer Don Was struck platinum again with Luck of the Draw, winning more Grammy Awards and critical accolades. The hit singles "Something to Talk About" and "I Can't Make You Love Me" sold more than eight million copies in the United States.

Raitt continued to release strong albums throughout the early 1990s. In 1991, she married Michael O'Keefe and, after decades of nonstop work, decided to take a break from studio recording. Traveling for fun instead of work rejuvenated Raitt, but she still took the time to collaborate with friends like Keb' Mo and Pete Seeger on musical projects, even earning a Grammy in 1996 for her work on a tribute album to Stevie Ray Vaughn. Continuing to work for favored causes such as reproductive freedom, environmental defense and health care, Raitt lent her name to a series of Fender guitars with proceeds going to inner city music programs for young girls.

In 2000, Raitt was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; three years later, she released a greatest hits album, The Best of Bonnie Raitt on Capitol 1989-2003. A follow-up project was a CD/DVD collaboration called Bonnie Raitt and Friends, featuring performances alongside the likes of Norah Jones, Alison Krauss, Keb' Mo and Ben Harper.

Tour With Taj Mahal

In 2009, Raitt and Taj Mahal set off on a 30-date tour across the United States, featuring duets as well as individual performances. Adding philanthropy to the mix, they also raised money for various charities by matching any donations made by ticket holders. "It's a great opportunity for all of us to raise the ante and the attention for something that needs focus. It's the cosmic food chain—that we get so much and we give something back—it's what we're supposed to do."

In April 2012, Raitt released her 16th studio album, Slipstream, which went on to win various awards, including the 2013 Grammy Award for Best Americana Album. She returned to the Grammy stage three years later to offer an electrifying tribute to the late B.B. King.

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