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Monday, July 11, 2016

Diana Ross's Musical Daughter, Rhonda, Is "The Best Kept Secret Of The Ross Family"

Posted By on Mon, Jul 11, 2016 at 3:58 PM

click to enlarge rhonda1.jpg

In advance of her upcoming show with her mother Diana, we spoke with jazz singer-songwriter Rhonda Ross about her career as a singer-actress, making money on the side, and what it's been like to follow in her mother's footsteps. 

Rhonda Ross performs with Diana Ross at 8 p.m., Tuesday, July 12, at Orpheum Theater. More info here

SF Weekly: What’s your background with singing?
Rhonda Ross: I was always a singer and I was always an actress. I went to Brown University and in the last two years, I joined a jazz quartet that became my first professional experience as a performing artist. I was doing very traditional jazz: Billy holiday, Betty Carter. And loved it. When I graduated, I moved to New York and my first job was actually singing at clubs. I met my husband who is an incredible jazz pianist named Rodney Kendrick, and he inspired me to start writing, to really express myself through that. And I started doing that and performing even more around New York and around the country.

SFW: And then you started acting…
RR: I was also doing auditions and I bumped into the role of Toni Burrell on Another World, the soap opera on NBC, and I became sort of known as that. I spent three years on that show and I got an Emmy nomination. Then I did movies and had guest stars on sitcoms. So when I’m recognized in the streets, if it’s not as Diana Ross’s daughter, it’s as one of these characters. But I’ve always been singing and I’ve always been songwriting.

SFW: And you also own a real estate company…
RR: I was playing smaller venues around New York, and I continued to do that throughout my life and career in my twenties and in my thirties. And when you do that, there’s not always a lot of income. And I have an entrepreneurial spirit, so I was always looking for other strings of income. Real estate popped up for me because to me it’s very communicative, it’s all about conversation and listening which is what the performing arts are about, too. So I went into real estate, I started a real estate company. I still have it and hope to always have it. It’s called Ross Realty International. It’s a wonderful source of income. And it’s one of the businesses that I have. So I’m happy to have it. But it’s not where my focus is.

SFW: I know that you've probably answered this question to death, but I’m curious. Did you feel any pressure to go into singing? Did you feel like you had expectations to live up to by being Diana Ross’s daughter?
RR: I do get the question a lot, but I think it’s an important question. And I think my experience is very different than a lot of children of celebrities. I didn’t feel pressured to go in or not to go in. My mother has been an incredible mother. She’s got five children, and in the midst of her gigantic career and the gigantic shadow that she cast from her persona and her legacy, she was able to raise us to believe that we didn’t have to hide in it. She taught us that we had value as human beings and we could achieve anything we wanted to achieve whether it was in the arts or not in the arts. I never felt that I had to be a singer because of her. I never felt that I shouldn’t because of her. I never felt that my singing had to be like hers. I think my stage presence is different, my songs are different. My mother is not a songwriter, I am. It’s different. And so that’s where we are now. Now, that said, I don’t sing her songs in concert. I always tell people don’t come to my show to hear “Baby Love” or “Stop In The Name Of Love.” It’s not going to happen. If you are a fan of my mother and you want to see what the next generation is doing, come for that, but I am not going around doing a Diana Ross tribute show. I’m doing my own music.

SFW: How has your music changed over the years?
RR: The music has changed. I feel like I know who I am now. I’m going to be 45 in August. I feel like I know what I want to say through my music. I have more of an opinion. I have more experience behind me. And when the music changed, my mother noticed that it fit the bigger venues that she plays. That it didn’t have to be in a smaller jazz intimate setting and could be in a bigger arena. Just this year we started putting our two shows together. It’s her show, I just do 20 minutes up front. And it’s just a thrill. It’s a thrill to be with her, it’s a thrill to share the stage with her, it’s a thrill to be in front of this many people. So all of it is great.

SFW: So I’m assuming since your mom heard this change that she attended your shows?
RR: Not very many of them because she's mostly based on the west coast and I’m on the east coast. So she was seeing big changes by the time she was in the audience. When she would see it, it would be a very different show and a very different person up there and I’d have all brand new songs. And my message is extremely important to me. I like to say write songs for grown folk, for people who are really examining the world around them and their place in it. I write a lot about reaching for spiritual peace in the midst of turmoil. And I feel that my message, it’s not exactly like my mother’s message, but it’s very akin to it. My mother is really strong about singing songs that benefit the world. So my message and her message work really nicely together and I think she started to see that as well.

SFW: Have you ever recorded an album?

RR: Yes, I have a live album that is out now. It’s called Rhonda Ross Live. And I have a couple singles that came out a couple years ago. But I have a new record coming out called In Case You Didn’t Know. And it is all my originals. I’m really proud of it. It’s a great document of where I am right now, where my head is, where my music is, where my spirit is.

SFW: Is the title an autobiographical reference to yourself?

RR: It’s not but it can be seen that way. I have a song called “In Case You Didn’t Know” that has nothing to do with me. It’s actually written from the perspective of the female goddess talking about how she runs the whole world and why she's the reason the sun rises and flowers bloom. She is that power. She is that magic. So the song is about that. But it was also very fitting I thought because I’ve been the best kept secret of the Ross family for too long. 
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Jessie Schiewe


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