Video of Rita's duet with Kris Kristofferson, "Help Me Make it Through the Night"
is at end of this post.
Born in Lafayette, Tennessee, multiple Grammy Award-winning vocalist Rita Cooledge is known as a versatile singer blessed with a clear, pure voice, capable of singing rock, pop, R&B, country, and folk.
Early in her career, RitA was in-demand constantly as a session vocalist in addition to her own solo recording career. During the 1970s and 1980s, she charted hits on Billboard's Pop, Country, Adult Contemporary and Jazz charts.
Part Cherokee, Rita first sang in the church where her father was a minister. She studied art at Florida State University, but also sang and wrote songs on the side, and decided to give music a shot before settling into teaching.
She moved to Memphis after graduation and worked singing commercial jingles, sometimes with her sister, Priscilla, and soon landed a job touring with Delaney & Bonnie as a backup vocalist. She subsequently relocated to Los Angeles, where she sang on recording sessions by the likes of Eric Clapton, Stephen Stills, Leon Russell, and Joe Cocker, among others. After returning from the supporting tour for Cocker's Mad Dogs & Englishmen, Coolidge landed her own solo contract with A&M.
Coolidge's self-titled debut album was released in 1971, but despite critical acclaim for it and the follow-up, Nice Feelin', she failed to break through commercially. Over the course of the next few years, she moved into country-rock and Southern California soft rock, working territory not too dissimilar from Linda Ronstadt.
She became known as "The Delta Lady" and inspired Leon Russell to write a song of the same name for her. It was during this time that she met Kris Kristofferson while filming Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid. They married in 1973.
With Kristofferson she recorded several duet albums which sold well, and earned them a Grammy Award for Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal in 1974 for "From the Bottle to the Bottom," and in 1976 for "Lover Please."
Their duet, Anytime, Anywhere climbed into the Top Ten and sold over a million copies. Coolidge and Kristofferson released one final duet album, Natural Act, in 1979, but their marriage was on the rocks, and they separated by the end of the year.
Coolidge previously had romantic liaisons with Stephen Stills and Graham Nash; her leaving Stills for Nash has been cited as a contributing factor behind the initial 1970 breakup of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.
Willie Nelson references her in Devil in a Sleepin' Bag on Shotgun Willie, saying 'Just got back from New York City, Kris (Kristofferson) and Rita (Coolidge) done it all/ Bought perfection there for all the world to see/ Lord, I heard an angel singing in that Philharmonic Hall/ Rita Coolidge, Rita Coolidge, cleft for me'.
Coolidge never repeated the pop success of Anytime, Anywhere, but she did continue to land hits on the adult contemporary charts through the early '80s, including "You," "I'd Rather Leave While I'm in Love," and "All Time High" (the theme for the James Bond flick Octopussy).
She parted ways with A&M after 1984's Inside the Fire, and spent some time away from the music business to devote herself to various social causes. She returned to recording with 1992's Love Lessons, on Critique, and went on to cut several albums for other small labels during the latter half of the '90s.
In 1997, Coolidge was one of the founding members of Walela, a Native American music trio, that also includes Coolidge's sister Priscilla and Priscilla's daughter Laura Satterfield. The trio released studio albums including Walela in 1997, and Unbearable Love in 2000, a live album and DVD (Live in Concert) in 2004 and a compilation album, The Best of Walela in 2007. Walela means hummingbird in Cherokee.
Rita released anthology collections in the early 2000s. And So Is Love, an album of traditional jazz standards, marked Coolidge's first release for the Concord label in 2005. In Spring 2010, Rita released Lady's Not for Sale/ Fall Into Spring/ It's Only Love.