Rita Coolidge is singer/songwriter with quite a few hit songs to her credit in the 1970s and 1980s, including a full album that she recorded with her then-husband Kris Kristofferson.
The 2019 Country Music Association Awards honored her ex-husband Wednesday (Nov. 13) with the Willie Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award, something that Coolidge certainly helped him with along the way due to their very successful collaborations.
Here’s everything you need to know about this award-winning songstress.
1. Rita and Kris Had a Tumultuous Relationship
Coolidge and Kristofferson famously met in the Los Angeles airport in 1970 when they were taking the same flight to Memphis. She tells the Irish Examiner that they agreed to get married within hours of meeting each other and thus began one of the highest-profile couples of the decade.
The two had great success as collaborators, releasing three albums together over the next eight years and earning Grammys for Best Country Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group in 1974 for “From the Bottle to the Bottom” and in 1976 for “Lover Please” — they were also nominated in 1975 for “Loving Arms” but did not win that year.
Their marriage, however, was not as harmonious as their musical collaborations. In Coolidge’s memoir Delta Lady, she detailed Kristofferson’s alcoholism and infidelity. She told The Aquarian in a 2019 interview that the marriage was “volatile,” which is one of the reasons she wrote her memoir — “to share [her] experience with him.”
But she also says that outside of their marriage Kristofferson is a “wonderful man.”
“Kris is a wonderful man. He is an extraordinary songwriter,” says Coolidge. “He’s been a close friend of mine and the father of my daughter, so I have nothing but glowing things to say about Kris. Our marriage was volatile … [but] he’s an amazing guy, and he’s a national treasure now. He’s still on the road, in spite of some issues he’s having with his memory. I think it’s wonderful that he’s still out there doing that. I love him dearly.”
Coolidge’s only child is the daughter she has with Kristofferson, Laura Satterfield.
2. Kristofferson Wasn’t Her Only Well-Known Romantic Partner
Besides Kristofferson, Coolidge was also romantically involved with several other high profile musicians, including Leon Russell and Jim Gordon. Russell wrote Joe Cocker’s hit “Delta Lady” about Coolidge (hence the title of her memoir) and then wrote his own song “A Song For You” about her as well. But it was Gordon who was the biggest heartbreak for Coolidge.
In her memoir, Coolidge writes about an incident while they were on tour with Cocker where she thought Gordon was going to propose, but instead, he hit her in the face and knocked her unconscious. At the time, she blamed his cocaine use, but Gordon has since been diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic. In 1983, he murdered his mother and is currently incarcerated in a psychiatric prison. Gordon has been denied parole several times over the years.
Coolidge later became involved with Stephen Stills and Graham Nash of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. When the group eventually broke up, David Crosby blamed Coolidge.
“He actually thought I was the devil,” she writes in her memoir, adding, “David maintains to this day that I’m the reason Crosby, Stills & Nash eventually broke up. But the problems in that group existed long before I came into the scene.”
3. She Went Uncredited On Several Hits
Coolidge is well known for her duets with Kristofferson and also her solo hits “We’re All Alone,” “The Way You Do the Things You Do,” “You,” “I”d Rather Leave While I’m in Love” and “(Your Love Has Lifted Me) Higher and Higher.” But there are a couple other big songs that people might not know she had in a hand in creating.
Coolidge goes into quite a lot of detail in her memoir about how, when she was dating Jim Gordon, who was Eric Clapton’s drummer, she wrote a “counter-melody” to Gordon’s composition “Time.” They recorded a demo of it and played it for Clapton, but nothing came of it — until Coolidge heard her melody line being used as the piano coda to Clapton’s song “Layla” about a year later.
She went to Tower Records to see if she was credited as a songwriter on the hit, but she was not. “They had totally just left me out of it,” Coolidge told Relix in a 2016 interview.
Coolidge tried to talk to Clapton’s management company, but she was told, “You don’t have the money to fight this.”
Something similar happened with The Carpenters’ hit “Superstar.” Coolidge recorded it first, for Cocker’s Mad Dogs & Englishmen album, but only Russell and Bonnie Bramlett were credited as the songwriters. Coolidge told Relix that Bramlett asked her why she didn’t say anything when the record came out and Coolidge responded that she knew if she did, then Bramlett’s husband and songwriting partner Delaney would have “beat the sh*t” out of Bonnie.
4. Rita’s Sister Was Murdered
Rita’s older sister Priscilla was also a singer/songwriter, collaborating on three albums in the early 1970s with her then-husband Booker T. Jones (of Booker T. and the MGs). Jones also produced Priscilla’s solo album Gypsy Queen. The two divorced in 1979, then Priscilla was married to broadcaster Ed Bradley from 1981 to 1984.
In 1997, Rita and Priscilla, along with Rita’s daughter Laura, formed a Native American music trio called Walela, which means “hummingbird” in Cherokee. The group released two studio albums in 1997 and 200, a live album and DVD in 2004, and a compilation album in 2007.
Then tragedy struck in 2014 when Priscilla was found dead in her Los Angeles-area home. The police deemed it a murder-suicide perpetrated by Priscilla’s third husband, Michael Seibert, who shot Priscilla in the head before taking his own life. Priscilla was 73 years old.
In her memoir, Rita says she “never liked [Seibert]” and “always felt he was a conman.” She knew her sister was thinking of leaving him in the months leading up to her death, so Rita hypothesizes that “he realized that she was going to leave him and thought, ‘If I can’t have you, nobody can.'”
5. But Rita is Still Making Music
Despite all she has been through, Rita is still creating new music. In 2018, she released the album Safe In the Arms of Time, which she calls “a reflection and a continuation of [her] remarkable history” on her official website.
“The idea was making an album that had the same appeal of my early records – to make a roots record about my own roots,” Coolidge writes.
She tells Parade magazine, “I’ve written so many songs assuming a role like an actor, but this time I got to write from experience. This is the best record I’ve ever done. I’m extremely proud of it.”