Glenn Frey, who was part of Ronstadt's backing band before he and groupmate Don Henley formed the Eagles. Stevie Nicks, Bonnie Raitt, Carrie Underwood, Sheryl Crow and frequent Ronstadt collaborator Emmylou Harris will perform a musical tribute in her stead, but Ronstadt herself, who revealed her battle with Parkinson's disease last year will be elsewhere. "It's very hard for me to travel," she says. "I can't travel very easily. I have to save traveling for things I really have to do. I have to spend a certain amount of time visiting my family, and I have to spend a little bit of time doing things that are professional. But I just can't travel casually. it's too hard."
Ronstadt will be represented by a new release next week, however. On April 8 Rhino will release "Duets," a collection of 15 collaborations with the likes of Harris, Henley, James Taylor, Dolly Parton, Aaron Neville, Bette Midler, Ann Savoy, Frank Sinatra and others, plus her Grammy Award-winning "An American Tale" duet "Somewhere Out There" with James Ingram and an unreleased track, "Pretty Bird," with Laurie Lewis.
"I prefer duets to anything else," Ronstadt says. "I love all kinds of ensemble singing; I prefer singing with somebody else to singing alone, always...but my favorite way to sing with somebody else is a duet because there's so much room to do stuff. When you sing with somebody else, if you're listening and paying attention, your voice will take on colors and tones and textures that you might not be inclined to exercise when you're just singing by yourself. There's so many variables in each person`s emotional and musical backgrounds; they're bringing in all kinds of little colors and textures that may not be in your story, so you get to ride on all that and try to chameleon-color it. I love that."
Ronstadt says sequencing was the hardest part about the "Duets" set together. "I took me three tries to get this together, which is unusual for me," she recalls. "Here I am doing a duet with another woman singer -- it'd be Ann Savoy compared to Bette Midler -- and you couldn't put those two together, one after the other. So I started with the most traditional, the most old-fashioned, and sort of went forward from there and got to Frank Sinatra. It was really difficult to get right."
Though the Parkinson's has robbed Ronstadt of the ability to sing, she's open to other kinds of archival and thematic releases for the future. "I could put out a whole record of just Jimmy Webb stuff, or I've got enough duets with Aaron (Neville) to make a whole album," Ronstadt says. "But I don't know how much of a demand there is for it; the record business has changed so profoundly. It's not something I think about, but every once in awhile a record company comes and says, 'We'd like to put out this. Do you think you could put this together?' and I go, 'OK, I can do that.' I'd love to do stuff of me singing with other women singers, like Ann Savoy and Dolly and Emmylou and Laurie and just have it be that, or just traditional stuff. I sang a lot of stuff, so there are all sorts of possibilities, I guess."