Count on the Carolinas to give Rita Coolidge an all-time high on her every visit.
After her concert at 7:30 p.m. next Thursday at Brunswick Community College’s Odell Williamson Auditorium in Supply, N.C., the soulful country and pop songstress looks forward to another celebration.
Speaking by phone last week from home in San Diego, Coolidge said she will stay in the Tar Heel State with her daughter’s family and three grandchildren to celebrate her birthday.
The Tennessee native recalled the delight of all the time savored with “my favorite aunt,” who lived in Myrtle Beach from about the turn of the 1970s until her passing in her late 90s two years ago.
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“She and her husband had a big house,” Coolidge said, thinking about “some of the best memories of my life.”
She brought up the “old Pavilion Amusement Park” and how much she loved its roller coaster and bumper cars.
Almost one year before she turns 70, Coolidge said other thrills through the years have included driving Formula One cars and “jumping out of planes.”
Wondering about the drive time to Charleston, where she has a brother, Coolidge boasted of her “great affection” for this slice of South Carolina, including Murrells Inlet, “and oh, my gosh, all the fabulous fine food in that area.”
Before Coolidge won two Grammy Awards in the 1970s from duet albums with her then-husband Kris Kristofferson, the Florida State University graduate with an art degree lent her voice in jingles, demos and in backing numerous acts such as Joe Cocker, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Leon Russell and Stephen Stills.
Her ‘different twist’
She made a new milestone as a solo artist with her first album for A&M Records, “Anytime … Anywhere” in 1977, which might have introduced a whole generation to some songs she covered, such as “Your Love Has Lifted Me (Higher and Higher),” a hit for Jackie Wilson 10 years earlier, the Temptations’ breakout hit “The Way You Do the Things You Do,” and Boz Scaggs’ “We’re All Alone.”
Having given such records a second coming her own sound and expression with “a different twist,” Coolidge defers the credit.
“I have to thank God for that,” she said. “I’m just kind of honored to get every day of my life.”
Coolidge also praised Booker T. Jones – from the MGs and part of the sound built with historic Stax Records in Memphis, Tenn. – for his help on “Anytime … Anywhere,” especially some of the arrangements.
“He brought that Booker T. magic to it,” she said.
Recording the theme for “Octopussy” – the sixth of a record seven movies by Sir Roger Moore as Special Agent 007 – and a music video with film footage, gave Coolidge another “fabulous” torch to carry in 1983, “to be chosen in such wonderful company.”
“To be a ‘Bond girl’ singer,” she said, “it’s like a lifetime achievement award, a stamp that goes into your resume. That’s fairly rare.”
She classified Moore as “a wonderful, wonderful man,” with “a great sense of life and a great sense of humor.”
Another life highlight happened when joining Moore in London in 1983 for the world premiere of “Octopussy” and meeting Prince Charles and the late Lady Diana.
Coolidge counts her blessings “to do what I do and that fans are still loyal through the decades.”
She also cherishes her American Indian roots, having recording in a trio called Walela – which means “Hummingbird” in Cherokee – with her sister, Priscilla Coolidge, and niece Laura Satterfield, and singing with Robbie Robertson, who’s of Mohawk descent, in the opening ceremonies for the Winter Olympics in 2002 in Salt Lake City.
Coolidge said her Cherokee heritage has “always been part of my life and in my family,” and that the Walela works have “been kind of more an inspirational journey of honoring ancestors,” as well as bringing “more native music to people and who are non-Indian, but also proudly setting an example for young people who are Indian.”
Hearing thanks from people who voice their inspiration from Coolidge’s exploring her heritage musically “really gives me a great deal of happiness,” she said, glad for “just being the spark.”
Heading in other directions has felt like home to Coolidge, too, through a CD of jazz standards, “And So Is Love,” from 2006 on the Concord label, and a Christmas collection released in 2012 by 429 Records. She said besides writing a book, she has picked up painting again, exhibiting in an exhibit in southern California.
Coolidge still laments her late aunt and both parents all dying within a year.
“They were my favorite people,” she said.
She said as she meets fans who still have her albums on vinyl and that “people seem to feel there’s that need to apologize for being my age or from my generation.”
“Instead,” Coolidge said, “we need to celebrate this, instead of perceiving age as something that’s not cool. … We have so much experience and information to bring to the people we love, whether for our siblings, our peers or our children and grandchildren.”