If you're under the age of 40, the name Rita Coolidge doesn't mean much to you.

Sure, you've probably heard the song "(Your Love Has Lifted Me) Higher and Higher" either at weddings or maybe on your parents' car radio when you are a kid, but she was pretty high on the list of musical celebrities in the 1970s.

Indeed, if you think the era of musician-as-magazine-cover girl began and ended with Lady Gaga or even Madonna, think again.

Consider that Coolidge, who comes to The Stockbridge Theatre in Derry, N.H., on Thursday night, inspired legendary singer-songwriter Leon Russell to write a song about her called "Delta Lady." It's based on her time as a backup singer on Joe Cocker's Mad Dogs & Englishmen album.

Not only did she also inspire songs from Graham Nash and Steven Stills, both of whom she dated, but upon meeting superstar country singer-songwriter Kris Kristofferson at a Los Angeles airport in 1970 when they were both flying to Tennessee, he departed the plane in Memphis (her stop) rather than his stop in Nashville. They married in 1973, recording several duet albums and earning a Grammy Award for Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal (1974, "From the Bottle to the Bottom" and again in 1976 for "Lover Please.")


All of this came before her biggest pop success, which came in 1977-78 with four consecutive top 25 hits, highlighted by her cover of Jackie Wilson's "(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher," which reached No. 2; her emotive take on Boz Scaggs' "We're All Alone", which hit No. 7; her turn on The Temptations' "The Way You Do The Things You Do", which made it to No. 20; and an original, "You," which topped out at No. 25.

Coolidge and Kristofferson divorced in 1980 and with that breakup went her pop success (she only charted one more time, in 1983 with "All Time High," which only reached No. 36) but she's never stopped recording. She's touring behind her new holiday album, A Rita Coolidge Christmas, even though this show is not devoted specifically to holiday music.

I chatted with her recently about her career and this tour.

"The Christmas season is the perfect time to go on the road and play the music you love," Coolidge told me. "I've done it the past 12 to 14 years."

If you get tickets to Thursday night's show, which run $25-35 and are still available, take heart that Coolidge will play all of your favorite songs.

"There was a time in the 1980s when I didn't do 'Higher and Higher,' but a friend of mine came up to me after a concert and read me the riot act," Coolidge said. "He said, 'You have no right to not sing that song. This is not about you.' A couple of weeks later, I went to see Luther Vandross at the Hollywood Bowl. He left out my favorite song and sang most of the songs from his new record at the time. I went to my friend and said, 'I've got it.' Then I had to go to Luther and say, 'You can't do that.' "

In terms of her 1970s pop-culture celebrity, Coolidge reminisced with a laugh, "I was a lot younger. It always seemed I was in the right place at the right time to have the right experience." Some of the experiences were over my head, but I was just out of college."

She says working with Kristofferson had as much to do with the production team of Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss (co-founders of A&M Records) as anything else. "They were happy memories for me."

Coolidge spent most of this year off the road coping with the deaths of her parents several months apart, but she's ready to get back out on the stage playing her biggest hits to her most loyal fans. "It's the music that saves me every time."

Rita Coolidge plays at the Stockbridge Theatre in Derry, N.H., on Thursday, Nov. 29, at 7 p.m. Tickets are $25-35 and can be purchased at www.stockbridgetheatre.com.

Ed Hannan can be reached at edhannan@gmail.com or through his For the Record blog at blogs.lowellsun.com/fortherecord. You can also follow him on Twitter @SunFTRblog or like our For the Record blog page on Facebook.