- Former member of Vote for Change
- Supported the Communist Sandinista dictatorship in Nicaragua
- Composed a song to honor Fidel Castro titled “Cuba Is Way Too Cool!”
Bonnie Raitt is a blues and rock musician. In 2004 she was a member of Vote for Change, a coalition of musicians that raised money for America Coming Together in an effort to help John Kerry win that year's presidential election.
Raitt was born November 8, 1949 in Burbank, California, daughter of famed singer John Raitt, who starred in such Broadway musicals as Carousel and The Pajama Game during the 1940s and 1950s. She grew up in Los Angeles and New York City in “a politically active Quaker household,” was playing guitar by age nine, and developed a passion for political protest songs. She would later tell People magazine that in her teens, she “thought [protest folksinger] Joan Baez was just about God.”
During the early 1960s, Raitt attended what she would later describe as a “progressive Quaker camp … that had a lot of counselors from the East Coast colleges where a lot of interest in folk music and civil rights and the peace movement was mushrooming. ... So that kind of tied music and politics together for me.”
Raitt attended Harvard-affiliated Radcliffe College in Cambridge, Massachusetts, became radicalized through protests against the Vietnam War and other activism, and studied African culture with the goal of becoming a social worker in Tanzania. Instead, she told People, she began “hangin’ out with 70-year-old blues guys who drank at 10 in the morning. My parents were a little concerned.” She would learn her craft by playing with such blues legends as Howlin’ Wolf, Mississippi Fred McDowell and especially Sippie Wallace.
Raitt dropped out of Radcliffe College, and within a few months, at age 21, she signed with Warner Brothers Records, which released her debut album Bonnie Raitt in 1971. Warner would release eight additional Raitt albums between 1972 and 1986.
Alcoholic and overweight, Raitt was praised by critics but found relatively little commercial success during her first two decades in the music industry. Then at age 40, with renewed sobriety gained through the help of Alcoholics Anonymous, she made the 1989 career-saving album Nick of Time for Capitol Records that produced four Grammys and “overnight” stardom. In 1991 Luck of the Draw opened the way to three more Grammys.
As a political activist, Raitt has embraced a wide range of leftwing causes. In 1979 she co-founded the anti-nuclear power group M.U.S.E. (Musicians United for Safe Energy) with Graham Nash and Jackson Browne. At Browne’s urging, she performed in places like Tucson, Arizona to support the Sanctuary Movement through which local law-enforcement and other government agencies refused to cooperate with federal efforts to apprehend illegal aliens. Also active in environmental causes, she is a longtime supporter of the Rainforest Action Network.
Raitt was a signatory to a July 28, 2000 political advertisement in the New York Times calling for an immediate end to the economic sanctions against Iraq, charging that the United States was responsible for "killing … over one million Iraqis, mostly children under five." Fellow signers included Rosie O'Donnell, Thomas Gumbleton, Pete Seeger, Daniel Berrigan, Philip Berrigan, James Lawson, Ed Asner, Mike Farrell, Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins, Martin Sheen, Ramsey Clark, Howard Zinn, and Noam Chomsky.
Raitt and a former producer for the Rolling Stones in 1996 were, according to one report, putting together an album “with high-profile rockers pounding out rhythms to back Chomsky’s lyrics.”
Raitt supported the Soviet-backed, Cuban-backed Sandinista dictatorship in Nicaragua during the 1980s. She performed at a concert to raise funds for the Christic Institute, which also supported the Sandinistas and spread blood libels against the U.S. military in Latin America.
In March 1999 Raitt was in Havana, Cuba to play at the Karl Marx Theatre along with a few other American musicians, including Peter Buck of R.E.M., another Vote for Change band. In Havana, Raitt met with and embraced Fidel Castro. On stage, she sang a new song she had composed in Castro’s honor titled “Cuba Is Way Too Cool!” Among its lyrics: “It’s just a happy little island!” and “Big bad wolf [a reference to the United States] you look the fool!”
While Raitt was in Havana, so was journalist David Corn, now Washington correspondent for The Nation. Corn witnessed Raitt telling Cuban journalists that it was “good to be here while Cuba is still not so under the influence of the West.”
In recent years, Raitt has donated money to the political campaigns of Al Franken, Barbara Boxer, James Webb, Claire McCaskell, Sherrod Brown, Keith Ellison, Barbara Lee, Dennis Kucinich, Howard Dean, Walter Mondale, Jim McGovern, Ralph Nader, John Kerry, Frank Lautenberg, Dianne Feinstein, and numerous others.
She has also contributed money to the Democratic State Central Committee of California, MoveOn.org, America Coming Together, the Green Party of the United States, the Democratic Party of Arkansas, the Texas Democratic Party, the Democratic Party of South Carolina, Voters for Choice, the Hollywood Women's Political Committee, the Progressive Politics Network, the Maine Democratic State Committee, the Missouri Democratic State Committee, Pax Americas, and others.