Delta Force

Rita Coolidge returns to the desert for the LifeStream Blood Bank gala and recalls her time in the Palm Springs Follies, her music career, and being lifted higher (and higher).

GREG ARCHER Arts & Entertainment, Current Digital

Rita Coolidge on living in Palm Springs — "Just getting to know Palm Springs, not as a tourist area, but as a community, was lovely. The restaurants, the health food stores, and everywhere I frequented, I truly felt like a resident."

Rita Coolidge opened her heart and shared a vivid array of soulful thoughts in her 2017 memoir Delta Lady. Hearing her recount some of her life’s high points – and those times when things felt pretty low – in conversation, you get the sense that Coolidge, a two-time Grammy winner with phenomenal vocal capabilities, swims in a deep sea of gratitude.

Coolidge is bound to share some of those life lessons – through song and in conversation – during LifeStream Blood Bank’s Inaugural Thanks4Giving Gala fundraising event on Nov. 21 at the Renaissance Indian Wells Resort & Spa. The outing sheds light on LifeStream’s vital place in the valley as it’s the exclusive provider of blood products and services to Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs, Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage, and JFK Memorial Hospital in Indio.

Robert Schein, who is the managing director and partner of sponsor Blanke Schein Wealth Management, High Tower Advisors, takes on gala chairperson duties.

For Coolidge, it’s an opportunity to return to Palm Springs, a community she “just loves.” The performer has had her share of classic 1970s and ’80s hits, including “We’re All Alone,” “Your Love Has Lifted Me (Higher and Higher),” “The Way You Do The Things You Do,” and “All Time High.” Still, there’s something downright soul-stirring in that during the late 1990s, Coolidge joined her late sister, Priscilla, in the Native American band Walela, which also included Priscilla's daughter, Laura Satterfield – Coolidge’s father was full-blooded Cherokee, and her mother was half-Cherokee/half Scottish. The trio created several albums.

Coolidge shares more about her journeys with Palm Springs Life.

You were a background singer on many albums, singing for icons like Leon Russell, Joe Cocker, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Graham Nash – it’s a long list. Plus, your own hits made a major dent on the music scene. When you look back now, what comes to mind?

Last night, my book, Delta Lady, was featured at a book club here in Tallahassee, where I now live, and I realized that there was so much going on those first 30 years. I think besides my solo career, being part of the group with my sister, Priscilla, who’s no longer with us, and my niece, and also singing at the opening of the Olympic Games in Salt Lake City, is something that always stands out in my mind. Because it was such a big event and there were about 1,000 native people on the ice that night in full regalia. It was incredibly beautiful.

Was writing your book cathartic?

When I read it again, it was like the first time I read it. It’s still very emotional for me. I thought that a lot of the times in my life, which were very difficult, were great growing experiences. But they are still really hard to look at. I think that happens for everybody as we look back over our lives and experiences. I’m grateful for all the things I have experienced. But I’ve always felt that way. Even when I am in the middle of something so hard, I still feel like there are angels and people that I can’t really see, but I know that I have a support system that’s all around me and that there are blessings.

"I think when your heart is open, you’re going to be able to accept the love that other people are willing to share with you."
— Rita Coolidge

Let’s chat Palm Springs for a bit.

I was in The Fabulous Palm Springs Follies at one point, which was quite an experience.

I bet.

I packed my cat, got an apartment in Palm Springs, and lived there for about a month about 10 years ago. I met some wonderful people. One of them is [dancer] Dorothy Dale Kloss, an amazing woman. Just getting to know Palm Springs, not as a tourist area, but as a community, was lovely. The restaurants, the health food stores, and everywhere I frequented, I truly felt like a resident. The people that were in Palm Springs Follies at the time were incredible. There was so much camaraderie amongst the singers. It was a great time.

What made you say yes to the LifeStream event?

I’m not doing as much touring as I’ve done in the past. I got married a year ago. I moved to Florida and I love being home now. There are certain things where I feel like I need to be there, and when I got called about this, this felt like one of them because it’s such a great fundraiser and so vitally important. These mobile blood banks are so vital; that they go out and find blood donors without people struggling to go out to find a blood bank, is, to me, such a great thing.

Word association time. What comes to mind when I mention Joe Cocker.

Of course I’m going to say Mad Dogs & Englishmen [Cocker’s 1970 album], but Joe was one of the most innocent, lovely people I ever knew. He had a voice that could stop the world. He had such strength in his voice and inner being. He was always so calm on the outside.

How about the song “Delta Lady,” which is also the name of your autobiography. What comes to mind when I bring up the song?

As soon as Leon Russell wrote the song, it became my handle and has followed me throughout my life, so there’s that. When somebody says, Delta Lady to me, I always see my picture on the Mad Dogs & Englishman album cover. But I always have to say it was all Leon’s creative poetry.

Kris Kristofferson.

The father of my daughter and one of the most magnificent men I ever knew. He’s a national treasure and there’s nobody like Kris. When I was re-reading my book, and those chapters about it, it reaffirmed everything I always knew about him. He’s county-Shakespeare.

You write about challenging times – relationships, life itself. What do you feel got you through all that? Faith? Your music?

Maybe the difference between the way I’ve dealt with some things and perhaps other people whom I’ve seen struggle a little bit more, is my parents [Dick and Charlotte Coolidge]. I really credit them for creating a solid, loving foundation that I’ve had my whole life. They really taught us about faith, to love and respect ourselves and people around us. They taught to us to treat people in the way we wanted to be treated. I think having a strong sense of who helped me get through things. I always heard their voices through the years whenever I came to a crossroads.

What’s the most interesting thing you’ve been learning about yourself lately?

If you like yourself, others will like you as well. When my husband Joe Hutto and I moved to Tallahassee last year – we met in college and both graduated from Florida State – we came back to a town that was familiar, but I didn’t know anyone. And yet, after being here just two years, I am so rich with friends and with people. I don’t think I expected to go to a new town and have the same kind of wealth of friendship that I had spent years building in California. I think when your heart is open, you’re going to be able to accept the love that other people are willing to share with you.

“An Evening With Rita Coolidge,” LifeStream Blood Bank’s Inaugural Thanks4Giving Gala, takes place from 5:30-9 p.m. Nov. 21 at Renaissance Indian Wells Resort & Spa, 44400 Indian Wells Lane in Indian Wells. Social hour is 5:30-6:30 p.m. For tickets and additional information, visit lstream.org. Learn more about Coolidge at ritacoolidge.net.