Singer-songwriter Rhonda Ross is an African Diasporic Woman of the World. Bilingual in French and English, and raising her son to be fluent in 4 languages, Rhonda often connects with her audiences through their native tongues.
Her original music lives in the gap between Jazz, Neo-Soul, Funk and Gospel. Her lyrics live in the pause between life’s most important questions and answers.
Rhonda has the entire package — as an entertainer, as a poet, and as a human being. She has great power on stage and her refreshingly personal and moving performances set her apart from other vocalists of her era.
Rhonda’s music flows straight from her essence and her bright spirit uplifts everyone in the room. With a crown of natural hair, she graces the stage with the gravitas and glamour of a modern-day queen. As the only child of Diana Ross and Motown Founder Berry Gordy, it has become evident that Rhonda not only has the talent, but the significance to carry on her parents’ legacy, all the while establishing her own unique musical destination.
While her music is based in classical jazz, it reflects influences from the entire spectrum of African diaspora sound. In 1994, she met, married and began a continual musical collaboration with jazz pianist and composer Rodney Kendrick.
Through her husband, Rhonda commenced studying with the late jazz great Abbey Lincoln. “It was Abbey and Rodney who convinced me to begin my journey as a singer-songwriter,” she says, “I primarily consider myself a storyteller and poet. I use my music to inspire and to uplift. And to teach people– including myself.” They collaborated on the live CD, Rhonda Ross Liv:Featuring Rodney Kendrick.
Now a mother to a young son, Rhonda’s music has taken on the more mature stance of a woman “with the understanding and wisdom of a 40 year-old, but the passion and dream-seeking of a 20 year-old.” Rhonda is one of the rare artists today using her music to examine the society she lives in–from racism to sexism to homophobia to the need for self-love and spirituality. Rhonda’s songs look through all of it and ask: “In the midst of this, how can I still live the best life possible?”
Through Rhonda’s individual and creative expression, the legendary Ross influence continues to live on and expand. Rhonda headlined one of President Obama’s 2nd Inaugural Balls, and later performed to standing ovations and rave reviews at The Hollywood Bowl, the Montreal International Jazz Festival, Wolf Trap and The Theater at Madison Square Garden.
Kam Williams: Hi Rhonda, thanks for the interview.
Rhonda Ross: Hi, Kam. I am thrilled to talk with you!
KW: I told my readers I’d be interviewing you, so I’ll be mixing their questions in with mine. First, let me say congratulations on receiving the Music Career Achievement Award at the Pocono Mountains Film Festival.
RR: Thank you. It’s quite an honor and a surprise. And an insult! [LOL] I don’t feel old enough to be receiving a “Career Achievement” Award, but I guess I am. Oh well. [Sighs, and laughs some more]
KW: Also screening at the festival is Crackdown Big City Blues. What interested you in the film?
RR: I was a really young actress when I was cast in Crackdown. I think I was 21. It was a huge challenge to play a young lady who was my age, but with so much tragic life experience. It taught me a lot.
KW: Larry Greenberg says: You were on Cosby back in 1997, but I’m not going to ask you about that. I’d like to know about your role as a dancer in the cult classic, The Last Dragon. Is dance a passion of yours and where did you learn to dance?
RR: The Last Dragon was a special film for me because I got to work with my father. I also enjoyed meeting Vanity, Taimak and the late Leo O’Brien. Leo and I became great friends and stayed friends for years. I have never studied dance, but I love it. I love moving my body in time with the music and I even dance a little during my music concerts!
KW: Reverend Florine Thompson has two questions for you: Who or what is your
primary source of inspiration? And what achievement are you most proud of?
RR: That’s easy. It’s the same answer to both! My son and my son! I am literally obsessed with being a mother. It consumes my every thought and weaves its way into the songs and plays I write–into everything. And I am really proud of the effort I put into it. Don’t get me wrong, I make a lot of mistakes and have to restart every day. But I know my intentions are pure and I keep on trying harder the next day.
KW: Judyth Piazza asks: What was your most memorable Motown moment growing up as a child?
RR: I was born in 1971, so all my Motown memories are in LA, and they mostly include my mother, my father and the Jackson brothers coming over and playing and singing with us in our home in Beverly Hills.
KW: Since your husband Rodney Kendrick is a jazz pianist, Janice Malone was wondering whether he’s ever worked with your mom in concert or in the studio?
RR: Rodney and I have spent most of our 18-year marriage writing, recording and performing together but, for the most part, we keep our careers separate from my mother’s career.
KW: Editor/Legist Patricia Turnier says: I want you to know that “Diana” is the first album I bought in my life. This was during my childhood. I had no idea at the time that your mother was a legend from The Supremes which, in my book, was the most elegant female group of all time. She asks: Do you think it is better for a star’s child to choose a profession different from a celebrity parent, like the way Stella McCartney did to avoid unfair comparisons and criticisms, given that the bar is much higher for them from the start?
RR: I think everyone should follow their hearts, especially artists. Artists can’t be artists unless they follow their hearts. If they are truly following their authentic calling, it will be unique and organic and comparisons won’t matter.
KW: Attorney Bernadette Beekman asks: What did she think of the Broadway play, Motown the Musical?
RR: I love it! Saw it about 15 times, and all over the country!
KW: Bernadette also asks: Do you support any charities?
RR: I do — mostly ones that support better lives for children: Figure Skating in Harlem, the Global Language Project, and Hearts of Gold, for which I am co-hosting their annual gala on November 5th along with Soledad O’Brien and Amy Carson. I will also be performing one of my new songs.
KW: AALBC.com founder Troy Johnson asks: What was the last book you read?
RR: I am reading all the time. I read a few books at a time. I have been devouring parenting books like “The Conscious Parent” and “Above All, Be Kind,” but I also just finished Susan Batson’s acting book, “TRUTH.” I also love biographies and recently finished Jennifer Lopez’s “True Love” as well as Cissy Houston’s “Remembering Whitney” and have just started Grace Jones’s “I’ll Never Write My Memoirs”.
KW: What is your favorite dish to cook?
RR: I am not a big eater and I am not a big cook, but I like cooking for Thanksgiving and Christmas. For those two meals, I can throw down macaroni and cheese, greens, black-eyed peas and rice, candied yams and garlic mashed potatoes. I usually leave the turkey to my husband, Rodney, but if I have to–I’ll knock that out too!
KW: Was there a meaningful spiritual component to your childhood?
RR: Very meaningful and very spiritual. We were not a church-going family, but I was always very familiar with God–the spirit of God–the indwelling spirit of God.
KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
RR: I see an artist… a mom… a woman figuring it out day by day… a wife, a loved wife… a daughter and a sister… and I see a friend… And I like what I see. I thank God for that.
KW: The “Realtor to the Stars” Jimmy Bayan’s question: What’s your dream locale in Los Angeles to live?
RR: The rest of my immediate family lives in LA, so we’re out there a lot. I just love the ocean, the beach, specifically, the Venice/Santa Monica area. So beautiful… so easy… I would love to spend more time out there–looking at the ocean cools me out. As much as I love New York City, I can see myself living out there–sitting on the beach–making art.
KW: Cousin Leon Marquis asks: How would you describe your music?
RR: My music is based in jazz, that’s where I cut my teeth. But it’s also mixed with Neo-Soul and funk and Gospel and even Rock. I’m a singer-songwriter. I’m a storyteller. I’m a seeker. My songs ask life’s questions and search for their answers. They are journeys. It’s a really fun show. I hope your readers will get a chance to check us out.
KW: Your website calls you a “speaker.. What do you like to speak about?
RR: My speaking engagements feel like my concerts! I speak about the same things that I sing about and the same things that I think about and talk about all day, every day: how to live the best life possible! How to move through and over obstacles! How to love yourself and feel worthy of that love! Same ole, same ole. [Laughs heartily]
KW: What are you working on these days?
RR: So much! I feel so blessed to be able to have the opportunity to practice the arts. And I love what I do. I am currently in the studio recording the first of 2 CDs. It documents the songs I have been doing on tour. The 2nd CD will be all brand new music. And I am also performing all around the country! I’ll be in Philly on November 13th, in New York City on December 8th, and Plattsburgh on December 12th–just to name a few. In addition to that, I have gone back to my acting roots. I will be starring in Electra: The Rewrite in New York City on November 23rd. It’s an hysterical play. It’s the story of Electra, the Greek Tragedy, but told with a Mel Brooks type humor. Hysterical! The writer-director is a brilliant friend of mine named Edward Pomerantz. I hope your readers will get a chance to check it out!
KW: What was your most enjoyable performance, and where would you love to perform?
RR: Coming out of jazz, most of the venues I have played have been clubs on the smaller side, but I recently had the opportunity to play some large venues–Wolf Trap, outside of DC, the Montreal Jazz Festival, and The Theater at Madison Square Garden, and there is nothing like having thousands–tens of thousands of people on one accord, swaying together, dancing and singing together. It’s powerful. I want more of that!
RR: You mean how much? [LOL] I have my and my son’s library cards and our Metrocards, the card that gets us on public transportation. We are homeschooling our 6 year-old and we use the entire city as our campus– traveling from river to river and tip to tip. Subways and buses are not only the fastest way to get around, there is nothing like being with the people.
KW: Thanks again for the time, Rhonda, and congrats again on the award.
RR: So happy to talk with you, Kam. See you soon!
To see Rhonda performing “It’s All Right with Me,” visit: