Her first "group" was called 'the Coolidge Sisters, with siblings Pricilla and Linda. They won local and state fair talent contests before going their separate ways. Rita went to Florida State University to pursue a degree in art.
While still in school, Rita used her musical talent to pay her way, singing commercial jingles for a Memphis production company. From that, she recorded her first single, called "Turn Around and Love You" for Pepper Records.
When Southern rockers, Leon Russell and Delaney and Bonnie heard Rita, they persuaded her to come to Los Angeles to sing back-up on their up-coming album. Surprisingly, Rita was well known in L.A. music circles, as "Turn Around and Love You" had been a regional hit there.
In 1969, Rita joined Joe Cocker's "Mad Dogs and Englishmen" tour. "It was a circus", she would recall, "it was an incredible time. We were always moving, always traveling. There was no time for anything". Rita though, was strong enough to handle the road and in a tribute, Leon Russell wrote a song about her called "Delta Lady".
On November 9 1970, on the runway of Los Angeles Airport, while waiting to board a flight to Memphis, Rita met singer-songwriter Kris Kristofferson. He was supposed to go to Nashville for a magazine interview, instead, he got off with Rita in Memphis and the two were married a short time later.
Now Rita had even more resources on her side, and in 1971, signed with A&M Records and began cutting a series of moderately selling albums. On them, she did everything from gospel to pop to R&B, and found her true strength was in ballads. With Kristofferson, she recorded several duet albums which sold well and earned Grammy Awards for Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal in 1974 for "From the Bottle to the Bottom", and again in 1976 for "Lover Please".
In May of 1977, Rita was five months pregnant. "I was really taking care of myself, watching my diet, sleeping right and was in excellent health. My baby was alive and kicking. I heard the heartbeat and then, for some reason, no one knows why, it just stopped".
Needing something to take her mind off of the grief, she threw herself into her next album. "Anytime...Anywhere". "It became a very important project for me", she later said. "I gave it all my energy, and wanted to make an 'up' album."
Rita added some spice to the LP by adding some of her favourite oldies from the sixties. Among them was Jackie Wilson's "Higher and Higher" which Rita slowed down to an almost sleepy style. The arrangement worked and Rita wound up having a #2 Billboard hit and one of the best selling songs of the year. It was her first Platinum single and a hit in nearly every city in the world. Oddly though, the song was banned in Singapore, where it was deemed "a drug song".
Rita followed with a string of Top 40 hits, starting with Boz Scaggs', "We're All Alone", which went to #7 in the US in 1977 and continuing with "The Way You Do The Things You Do", which climbed to #20.
Sadly, her marriage to the man whose love had lifted her higher and higher, did not last, but by that time Rita was a star in her own right and was not just Mrs. Kris Kristofferson.
Successful singles continued, including "You" (#25 in 1978), "I'd Rather Leave While I'm In Love" (#38 in 1980), "Fool That I Am" (#46 in 1980) and "All Time High" (#36 in 1983) from the James Bond movie Octopussy.
In 1997, Rita was one of the founding members of Walela, a Native American music trio that includes her sister Priscilla and Priscilla's daughter Laura Satterfield. The trio released studio albums in 1997 ("Walela") and 2000 ("Unbearable Love"), a live album and DVD ("Live in Concert") in 2004 and a compilation album ("The Best of Walela") in 2007.
2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011 were all booked with shows in the US, Canada, Japan and Ireland. In 2012, Rita's website showed a busy touring schedule throughout the United States.
Rita's sister Priscilla married organist Booker T. Jones of Booker T. and the MGs