Rhonda Ross Discusses Music And Family With The Orlando Times
INTERVIEW CONDUCTED BY JALESSA CASTILLO, TIMES STAFF WRITER
Singer-songwriter, Rhonda Ross, is an international Social-Artist, who explores the social environment around her and her relationship to it. Her original music lives in the gap between jazz, funk and gospel while her lyrics delve into life's biggest questions and answers.
Rhonda's music flows straight from her essence and her bright spirit uplifts everyone in the room. With a crown of natural hair, Rhonda 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.
In 1994, she met, married, and began a 20-year musical collaboration with jazz pianist and composer Rodney Kendrick. Now as 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 yr old, but the passion and dream-seeking of a 20 yr old!”
Rhonda is one of the rare artists today using her music to examine the society she lives in. With songs like: “Nobody’s Business” – a groovy, bass-led reminder that “your joy comes from the inside and that it’s nobody else’s job to make you happy”, and “Summer Day” - an upbeat realization that even after the harshest winter, the sun will re-emerge and “the buds of hope can still bloom”.
Q: What is your favorite part of performing? Why?
A: There are two favorite parts for me. Number one, creating the song, when a song comes to me that’s an exciting moment. The second part is sharing it with the audience. That connection between me, the band, and the audience is like nothing else.
Q: What is your inspiration?
A: A song can come from anywhere. Most of my songs help me to untangle the parts that are complicated in my life. For example, a couple years ago I was having a pity party for myself and I heard a voice say, “It isn’t anyone’s job to make you happy Rhonda Ross,” and from there the song, ‘Ain’t Nobody’s Business’ came to me. Within an hour I had the whole song. I still hold on to the lyrics from that song as my mantra. My life, challenges, and desires are what inspire me.
Q: How did you solidify yourself as an artist, having such established parents?
A: The bottom line is I am always myself. I could have tried to duplicate my parents, specifically my mother, but when you try to duplicate Diana Ross you get your feelings hurt. She has some special magic that is non duplicable. But luckily for me, in the midst of all her stardom she was and is a great mother. She gave me and my siblings a sense that we didn’t have to try to copy her and try to live off of her accomplishments, and that the most important thing we could do was figure out what our passion was and pursue that. You know, there is no other Diana Ross but there is also no other Rhonda Ross.
Q: What is it like being on tour with your mother?
A: It is amazing. We are very close and have always been close. We have such a strong family unit and we are very supportive of each other. Last year she asked me to open for her on tour and I have been a singer songwriter for going on 25 years and she has never asked me before; what that meant to me was that she has been watching what I have been doing, what I have been building, and what I have been doing behind the scenes. It is so exciting for me because I know that this means she respects what I am doing. After the shows, we get an opportunity to travel together and stay in hotels together and that is special, it’s a bonding time.
Q: You have performed at big venues, including one of President Obama’s 2nd Inaugural Balls, what were those experiences like for you?
A: It’s interesting because my roots are in jazz so for that past 25 years I have been doing smaller jazz clubs and I am happy that’s where I cut my teeth because there is a one on one connection I have gotten used to with my audience. What I found though is that even when I go in front of big audiences that same connection translates in those bigger audiences. To me they are kind of the same in a way.
Q: Along with singing, you act and are a public speaker. Do you prefer one over the other two?
A: They are all tied together for me, as they are all expression of my art and my beliefs. For instance, the song I did, “Nobody’s Business,” when I do motivational speaking I’m talking about that same concept.
Q: You also have worked behind the camera and as a director. How was that?
A: I have written for the stage and screen, directed and acted on the screen like you said. It is all pieces of the same stone for me. I think that the industry tries to categorize talents and I never thought it should be like that. Who knows, maybe I could have been more well known if I would have stuck to one thing but I wouldn’t be happy.
Q: What do you enjoy about being a wife and mother?
A: I have an incredible family, husband, and kid. I love everything about it. My husband and I are best friends, we are partners in business and art and he has taught me so much in the 23 years we have been together. Our relationship is continually expanding. As for being a mother, what do I not like about being a mother? We tried for 15 years to have a baby, and all I wanted in this whole world was to bring a child into this world and I was not quitting. Two of the most exciting things for me is exposing him to all the opportunities in life you can enjoy and watching him find, develop, and show us the things we had nothing to do with, and that is his creativity with storytelling.
Q: What lessons have you learned as a wife and mother?
A: The biggest lesson I have learned is that it is a no judgment zone. No matter what, it is hard work and we are all doing the best we can. Once I saw how hard work it was I stopped judging other mothers.
Q: You homeschooled your son and he is fluent in 4 different languages, why did you do that? How did you do it?
A: When my son started school, he was two years old, and I was fascinated by the concept of giving him languages and I speak French so I wanted to give that to him, and I noticed even though he wasn’t speaking I could tell he was comprehending and then I wanted to give him more. So, I started to put him with babysitters who only spoke in Spanish and the same thing happened, then we put him into an immersive Spanish preschool. A little while after that we did the same process with Mandarin-Chinese. He wasn’t confusing the languages and he would speak to me in French and then to his Spanish and Chinese teachers in their respective languages. We took him out of school because it is very hard to give a personalized education to individual students and I didn’t feel that they were meeting some expectations. We know our children and how they learn but a school can only offer as much as they can.
Q: Why do you support organizations like Hearts of Gold and The Global Language Project?
A: Since I have been a mother I have really started to loan my time, money, and energy to organizations. They tend to be organizations that work to support our children and our parents. Hearts of Gold supports homeless mothers and children to get a leg up and I have been on the advisory board for about seven years. Global Language Project brings immersive language classes to the school system and support that foundation. I am also on the board of PONO which is a school where students get to choose what they want to learn.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to add?
A: I am on the board of Hearts of Gold in New York and Motown Museum in Detroit specifically because their program Motown EDU that helps teenagers find their entrepreneurial side for the arts and I support The Global Language Project.
Rhonda Ross will be performing as the opening act for her mother, Diana Ross, during her “In The Name Of Love,” tour. The tour is coming to The Dr. Phillips Performing Arts Center on June 27, 2017 so make sure to go to www.drphillipscenter.org to get your tickets today!