Originally published in Alaska Dispatch News
Rhonda Ross is the daughter of Motown star Diana Ross and record producer Berry Gordy, but there’s no mistaking the fact the musician has a voice that’s all her own.
“My mother raised me and my four siblings to never live in her shadow. She made us know that we are individuals and we are unique. We are not lesser human beings,” Ross said.
“I never had issues with worrying that someone only liked me because of my relationship to my mother and that’s a testament to how she raised us. Because of that I was always reaching for my own sound and reaching for what I want to say in my music.”
Ross is a singer, songwriter, motivational speaker, writer and actress. She appeared in “Another World” from 1997-1999, and was nominated for a Daytime Grammy Award in 1998. In 2004, Ross created a live album with her husband, jazz musician Rodney Kendrick, called “Rhonda Ross Live Featuring Rodney Kendrick.” Her latest album, “In Case You Didn’t Know” was released in July 2016.
“I always knew I was going to be an artist and a storyteller. I was on stage with my mother since I was 6 months old. When you’re around it, that’s what you know and it’s easy to go that way,” Ross said.
Ross describes her music as a new take on the fusion between jazz, funk and neo-soul.
“It’s basically jazz, but it has those other elements musically. But my lyric is important to me,” Ross said. “My songs have lyrical content that I think pop music hasn’t really allowed for. I like to tell real stories that are really encouraging.”
Ross is inspired by powerful women musicians, she said. In addition to her mother, Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, Tina Turner and Abbey Lincoln are some of her musical role models.
“You get these strong, bold, badass women, and that, you know, just takes me out. That’s who I’m really influenced by. Those kinds of women, I just dig them, they move me,” Ross said.
In 2005 Ross took a hiatus from art to focus on starting a family. It was becoming a parent that inspired Ross’ new album and her return to the music industry.
“I had grown and matured, I had become a mother, I had a different perspective on life. I wanted to make a different kind of music than I had been making. I started exploring this new voice inside of me — this new take on life. I’m bringing more to the table now than I was 20 years ago,” Ross said. “I went back to my art because I heard my call. That was why I was put on this planet, to write, to sing, to speak.”
This will be Ross’ second visit to Anchorage. She first came in 2002 to perform in a production of “The Vagina Monologues.” This time, Ross will be performing alongside her husband, which she has not done in about five years.
“This performance in Anchorage is one of the first ones of us bringing ourselves back together and finding this new music, this new conversation that he and I get to have. We are collaborating as parents now,” Ross said.
Also featured in the show will be local musicians Dirk Westfall, Rick Zelinsky and John Damberg. In the last few years Ross has made a point to work with local musicians wherever she tours.
“I’ve found that there’s so much talent, spirit, passion and energy here,” Ross said. “What I found is that the music I write is simple and that when I allow people to bring their perspective and their personalities and gifts and talents to give to the music, the music expands — explodes really. It advances in such an exciting way.”
In addition to her performance at Williwaw, Ross will also be speaking to teens at the AK Hopes and Dreams Summit. The AK Hopes and Dreams Project was founded in 2015 as a way to energize and inspire young Alaskans.
“My message to those teens and to the world, both through music and public speaking, is to spend some time getting to know that call and voice and learning to trust it because it’s right and it’s powerful,” Ross said.
Ross hopes the people of Anchorage won’t seek a second coming of Diana Ross, but that people will come and see what she has to offer.
“Yes, I know that I’m Diana Ross’ daughter … But I am not that. I am me. I’m the first coming of Rhonda Ross, how about that?” Ross said.
“I don’t have the career she has, I don’t have the money she has, but I am very proud of the music I make. I can stand on it. My pride doesn’t come from the size of the career or the paycheck.”