Blakley was born in Nampa, Idaho, the daughter of civil engineer Ronald Blakley and his wife Carol (née Brown; 1923–2009). Blakely has three siblings, brothers John and Stephen Blakly, and a sister Marthetta "Muffie." Ronee's brother Stephen died of AIDS in 1996, at age 44. Carol Blakely became a champion of gay rights after her son came out to their religious family. Blakley’s early years were spent in the Pacific Northwest where she was selected as Idaho's representative to Girl's Nation while in high school. She studied at Mills College, Stanford University, and went to New York to attend Juilliard for post-graduate work.
Blakley began in New York improvising vocally with Moog synthesizers in Carnegie Hall to music by Gershon Kingsley. Her first soundtrack was composed for the 20th Century Fox film Welcome Home, Soldier Boys and earned her a spot in Who's Who in America.
In 1972, Blakley released her self-titled debut album on Elektra Records. The album featured Blakley’s original songs, self-accompanied on piano. Blakley also made the musical arrangements. The song “Bluebird” featured a duet with Linda Ronstadt. Blakley's songs were published by her own company, Sawtooth Music.
Her second album, Welcome was released on Warner Bros. in 1975, produced by Jerry Wexler and recorded at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Alabama. The Los Angeles Herald Examiner wrote it was a "near perfect album."
That same year, Blakley appeared in what may be her most widely known performance in Nashville. Her character Barbara Jean was purported to be modeled after country star Loretta Lynn. However, according to Blakley herself, Barbara Jean was originally supposed to have been based on Lynn Anderson. In Nashville Blakley performs her own songs in character, including "Tapedeck In His Tractor," "Dues" and "My Idaho Home." In her review for The New Yorker, film critic Pauline Kael wrote:
“This is Ronee Blakley’s first movie, and she puts most movie hysteria to shame. She achieves her gifts so simply, I wasn’t surprised when somebody sitting beside me started to cry. Perhaps, for the first time on the screen, one gets the sense of an artist being destroyed by her gifts.”
Blakley was – along with Lily Tomlin, a co-actor from Nashville – nominated for an Academy Award in the category Best Supporting Actress. Blakley was also nominated for a Grammy, a Golden Globe and a British Academy award, and won the National Board of Review award for Best Supporting Actress. She was featured on the covers of Newsweek, American Cinematographer and Andy Warhol's Interview Magazine.
She toured as backup singer to Bob Dylan in the Rolling Thunder Revue, and sang backup vocals on his album Desire. The Rolling Thunder Revue featured Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, among many others. She appears on the live albums from that tour Hard Rain and The Bootleg Series Vol. 5: Bob Dylan Live 1975, The Rolling Thunder Revue. She also recorded with Leonard Cohen and Hoyt Axton.
In 1977, Blakley starred in the film She Came to the Valley with Dean Stockwell, Scott Glenn, and Freddy Fender. She also appeared in several TV movies including Desperate Women, Ladies in Waiting, Oklahoma City Dolls and the Ford 75th Anniversary Special introduced by Tennessee Williams and co-starring John Ritter in The Glass Menagerie. Her guest starring roles in television series include Vegas, The Love Boat, Highway to Heaven, Trapper John, Hotel, The Runaways, Beyond Westworld and Tales from the Darkside.
In 1980, Blakley starred in The Baltimore Bullet with James Coburn, Omar Sharif and Bruce Boxleitner. Two years later, in 1982 she appeared on Broadway in Pump Boys and Dinettes with Loudon Wainwright III and starred Off Broadway with Tammy Grimes in 1983. She starred in Somerset Maugham's Rain' for the Indiana Repertory Theatre. For Wes Craven's 1984 horror film A Nightmare on Elm Street she played the role of Marge Thompson.
In 1985, she produced, wrote, starred in, and directed her own feature music docudrama titled I Played It for You which debuted at the Venice Film Festival and which has subsequently appeared at several other film festivals around the world, including a recent screening at the Silver Lake Film Festival. Sheila Benson of the Los Angeles Times called “I Played It For You” "passionate and brave, an absorbing work." FX Feeney of the LA Weekly called it "a valuable document." the film was released on DVD in 2008, bundled with the soundtrack on CD and a new spoken word poetry album titled Freespeak.
Throughout her career, Blakley has performed on behalf of several political and social causes, with an emphasis on civil rights and equal rights for women. During the 1976 presidential campaign, she toured performing before the speeches of Jerry Brown and later performed at the final Los Angeles rally of Walter Mondale with Kris Kristofferson.
Blakley was married to German filmmaker Wim Wenders from 1979 to 1981. She completed a master's degree at California State University in 2002.
She has one child, a daughter, author Sarah Blakley-Cartwright, born in 1988. Blakley's career was put on hold while she raised her daughter and also recovered from a back injury.
Her most recent album of original songs, River Nile, was released in 2009, inspired by a trip she made to Egypt. In October 2010, she appeared on stage at New York's Bitter End for the first time in 20 years.Ronee Blakley (1972) – Elektra (re-released by Collector's Choice 2006)
Nashville Soundtrack – MCA
Welcome (1975) – Warner Bros. (re-released by Collector's Choice 2006)
I Played It for You (2007) – RBPI (CDBaby.com)
Freespeak (2008 – RBPI (CDBaby.com)
Lightning Over Water Soundtrack (2008) – RBPI (CDBaby.com)
Ronee Blakley Live at the Mint (2008) – RBPI
River Nile (2009) - RBPI
Grief Holes (2009) - RB[O
"Live at the Bitter End" (2011) -RBPI
"Djerassi Collection" (2012) - RBPI
Wilbur and the Baby Factory (1970)
Three Dangerous Ladies (1977) (segment "The Mannikin")
The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover (1977)
Renaldo and Clara (1978)
The Driver (1978)
She Came to the Valley (1979)
Good Luck, Miss Wyckoff (1979)
The Baltimore Bullet (1980)
Lightning Over Water (1980)
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) as Marge Thompson
A Return to Salem's Lot (1987)
Student Confidential (1987)
Someone to Love (1987)
Murder by Numbers (1990)
Desperate Women (1978)
Vega$ (1 episode, 1978) : Second Stanza (1978)
Ladies in Waiting (1979)
The Love Boat (1 episode, 1979) : Doc's Ex' Change/Gift, The/Making the Grade (1979)
Beyond Westworld (1 episode, 1980) : Sound of Terror (1980)
The Oklahoma City Dolls (1981)
Highway to Heaven (1 episode, 1984) : Song of the Wild West (1984)
Trapper John, M.D. (1 episode, 1985) : So Little, Gone (1985)
Tales from the Darkside (1 episode, 1985) : The False Prophet (1985)
ABC Afterschool Special Sherman (1 episode, 1987) : Divorced Kids' Blues (1987)
Hotel (1 episode, 1988) : Double Take (1988) TV episode
Welcome Home, Soldier Boys (1972)
Lightning Over Water (1980)
Docu Drama (1984)
Nashville (1975) (writer: "Bluebird", "Tapedeck in His Tractor", "Dues", "My Idaho Home") (music: "Down to the River") (lyrics: "Down to the River") (performer: "Tapedeck in His Tractor", "Dues", "My Idaho Home", "One, I Love You", "Down to the River")
Renaldo and Clara (1978) (writer: "Need a New Sun Rising") (performer: "Need a New Sun Rising")
Docu Drama (1984)
Of One Blood (2012)