Linda Ronstadt was known as the first lady of rock 'n' roll in the 1970s. These days, she's a single mother who sings.

"When my children were born, I stepped away from music to be with them full-time," Ronstadt said by phone from Philadelphia, Pa. "I didn't tour and didn't make a lot of music. Then, about the time they started turning 10, I looked into their future and saw how much college cost and went back on tour."

Ronstadt, 61, said caring for her children has made her realize how important good health care is, especially dental care. "It's pretty ridiculous that our country has the most advanced dental care in the world and there are still some children who can't get it because of high insurance rates. My son has soft teeth and I have had to get him specialized dental care, and that costs quite a bit. And those who are low-income are having to struggle even more."

That's why Ronstadt is happy that Regence Caring Foundation will be receiving a percentage of her ticket sales for tonight's performance with the Utah Symphony. The foundation has provided free dental care to more than 20,000 uninsured children over the past 15 years. Last year, the foundation helped 2,160 Utah children and 693 Idaho children receive dental-care treatments.

"This is a great program," said Ronstadt. "It's needed."

From 1967, when she recorded her first album, "The Stone Poneys featuring Linda Ronstadt," Ronstadt has been politically active. Meanwhile, her recording career soared, even as she experimented with a variety of musical styles. From her success in 1974 with the album "Heart Like a Wheel" to Broadway turn as Mabel in Gilbert & Sullivan's "Pirates of Penzance" to her traditional pop-standards albums to movie soundtracks to Latin albums to duets with Aaron Neville, Ronstadt has found a home in each.

"My family loves music," she said. "My aunts and mother loved opera. My father, who did a lot of business in Mexico, brought back Mexican music, and my grandpa and aunts would sit at the piano and sing all the arias from the operas they loved. My brother was in a boy choir, and we also listened to the radio. There were a lot of country and rock songs playing, and we got to hear some rhythm & blues that were broadcast from those high-powered towers in the South.

"So it was like a big melting pot of music that I heard growing up."

Ronstadt has been nominated for 17 Grammy Awards and won 11. She has an Emmy Award and was nominated for a Tony Award and a Golden Globe. But of all the varied aspects of her work in the music business, Ronstadt said she loves the creative aspect above all else.

"Playing live is the consequence to making music," she said with a laugh. "It's true. I love walking into a bare room with good musicians and knowing that there is nothing in the room but talent. I love creating music. And I find that when I'm almost done with a project, I want to start another right away."

In the '80s, Ronstadt worked with bandleader Nelson Riddle on three traditional pop albums — "What's New" (1983), "Lush Life" (1985) and "For Sentimental Reasons" (1986). "I'm still very proud of those albums. They were comprised of songs from the Great American Songbook and are all rich in their complexity. And they work well live with a symphony.

"I like to perform with an orchestra, and the songs tell my stories. They tell how I felt when I was 16, 35 and now. In fact, I'm happy with all my achievements in music.

"What I'd like to do next is an album of Mexican trios. And that style, in itself, is divided into three areas. So there is a deep resource of musical creativity there."

If you go

What: Linda Ronstadt, Utah Symphony

Where: Abravanel Hall, 123 S. West Temple

When: tonight, 8 p.m.

How much: $65

Phone: 355-2787, 888-451-2787