Clarksburg nonprofit hosts 7-day virtual Linda Ronstadt event for medical research

Nonprofit BrightFocus Foundation in Clarksburg, Maryland, is hosting a virtual screening of the documentary “Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice” from June 4-10.

American musician Linda Ronstadt poses in New York in this photo from Sept. 17, 2013. (Amy Sussman/Invision/AP)

Gist Vile’s Jason Fraley previews Linda Ronstadt event

Music legend Linda Ronstadt, 73, was recently forced to retire due to a rare medical condition called progressive supranuclear palsy, which is similar to Parkinson’s disease.

So, the nonprofit BrightFocus Foundation in Clarksburg, Maryland, is hosting a virtual screening of the documentary “Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice” from June 4-10.

“It’s a great opportunity for people to watch an inspirational woman,” producer James Keach said. “It’s pretty hard to have a gala when everybody’s quarantined, so they thought, ‘Maybe we’ll have a different way to reach out to the public and get support.’”

Keach will kick off the event by introducing the documentary, while BrightFocus C.E.O. Stacy Pagos Haller will interview four leading scientists: Sarah Doyle of Trinity College Dublin, Makoto Ishii of Cornell University, Amir Kashani of the University of Southern California, and Yvonne Ou of the University of California, San Francisco.

“This is also an opportunity for folks to become aware of these people, these scientists, and have a conversation, so that they can see the minds behind the cures,” Keach said. “They do very important work because they’re funding research for scientists to find the cures for Alzheimer’s, macular degeneration and glaucoma. It’s a fantastic organization.”

Keach first got involved when he interviewed BrightFocus Senior Vice President Nancy Lynn for the Oscar-nominated documentary “Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me” (2014).

“In Glen’s case, he wanted to tell the story of what Alzheimer’s looked like,” Keach said. “He’d gone through certain parts of his life where he was hiding from himself, through his alcoholism and drug stuff. He had a rough few years there. When he got the Alzheimer’s, he realized that this is an opportunity to make good on the spiritual side of his life.”

Now, “Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice” explores similar themes.

“When I was asked to do it, the focus was never to be on Parkinson’s and it isn’t, it was on her career,” Keach said. “It just so happened that she had a neurodegenerative disease [similar to] Parkinson’s. So it’s not really a theme, it’s just happenstance I guess.”

The documentary was directed by filmmakers Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman.

“They actually optioned a book called ‘Simple Dreams,’” Keach said. “When CNN asked me to make this film, I looked up who had the rights to “Simple Dreams’ and it was Rob and Jeff. They’d been trying to get the movie financed and they couldn’t do it, so I said, ‘Why don’t we just partner up and make it together?’ … They’re terrific filmmakers.”

The film premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival, showcasing her talent across hits like “You’re No Good” and “Poor Poor Pitiful Me,” while interviewing Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, Jackson Browne, Don Henley, Bonnie Raitt, Sheryl Crow and David Geffen.

“She had one of the greatest, most powerful voices of all time,” Keach said. “She could sing anything, she sang opera, she sang country, she sang rock, she sang folk, she sang the blues.”

The documentary also explores her fascinating personal life with her family background.

“What I didn’t know when I first started the project was just how influential her parents and her family was,” Keach said. “She’s half Mexican, so she had to live with that her whole life. I don’t think a lot of people in the music business wanted her to focus on that.”

Mostly, he was impressed at the way she wouldn’t take “no” for an answer.

“Linda Ronstadt is the complete personification of a completely liberated woman,” Keach said. “She set an example for generations of women to come with her individual drive to be herself, not to be what somebody else wants to make of her. … She defied that, but not with belligerence, she defied it with what was a very interesting kind of persuasion.”

That persuasion was best on display trying to get out of her contract with Capitol Records.

“She said, ‘You have all these great female stars, I think you can do well with them and you can let me go do my thing somewhere else,’” Keach said. “The guy was melted by her and he said, ‘OK, I’ll make a deal. You go do your album over there and then you gotta come back and do one for me.’ That produced two of the biggest selling albums for her.”

His next movie is called “The Turning Point” about the search for a cure for Alzheimer’s.

“It’s about men and women working 30 or 40 years to find a cure for Alzheimer’s and how nine out of 10 times, they come up empty,” Keach said. “They don’t feel like they’re failing, they feel like not trying is failing. You learn from when it doesn’t work. … Hopefully, God willing, we’ll find a cure for Alzheimer’s, macular degeneration and glaucoma.”

You can do your part by tuning into the virtual event hosted by BrightFocus.

“There’s a lot to discover about Linda and to appreciate,” Keach said. “We see ourselves in it, especially if we’ve lived through those times. Even if we haven’t, we discover a human being that is an exceptional light on our planet right now. We need a lot of those lights.”

Gist Vile’s Jason Fraley chats with James Keach (Full Interview)

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