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In the liner notes to Bonnie Raitt’s new album, Just Like That, she lists 14 people she loves who died in the last few years — from musical peers like John Prine to her nephew, Miles Raitt. The causes range from cancer to COVID. But the songs she wrote about her heartbreak couldn’t be more hopeful, epitomized by a rousing refrain in which she declares, “I’m living for the ones who didn’t make it.”
“I actually do start every day thinking to myself, I get another chance!” Raitt said by phone from her home in Marin County, California. “I’m going to live this life for the ones who didn’t get that shot.”
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At 72, Raitt’s defiantly hopeful attitude reflects a lifetime fueled by the social justice movements she has been involved with for decades, as well as by a musical legacy that has proven enduring enough to have just reached a new milestone. This last year marked half a century since Raitt released her self-titled debut album, a feat the Grammys acknowledged this week by giving her one of its most vaunted prizes — a Lifetime Achievement Award.
AARP spoke with Raitt about her big award, what keeps her motivated and why she treats every show like it’s opening night.
What did winning this particular award from the Grammys mean to you?
It’s an honor because the Grammy organization changed my life. After I won Album of the Year, and all those other Grammys, in 1990, I suddenly had more options. I could play with a different level of musicians. I could raise a lot more money for the Rhythm and Blues Foundation, for Native American rights and No Nukes and environmental causes. And when I opened my mouth, people actually printed what I had to say. For them to give me this award is especially wonderful because it’s not just for my music. I believe it’s also for who I am in the community. It’s not for record sales, that’s for sure.