~ HALL OF GREATS ~
RHONDA VINCENT: A SPBGMA LEGEND
By Steve Romanoski
It is rare to find someone as qualified, and deserving, for being listed among the bluegrass legends that are members of The SPBGMA Hall of Greats. But, when you look at Rhonda’s contributions to bluegrass and the many achievements that she has garnered during her career, the honor is only a logical conclusion. Rhonda began her musical journey at the age of five, when she stood on stage with her family’s band. The band became The Sally Mountain Show and it gave young Rhonda an opportunity to discover the magic of bluegrass during a period of time that the music was exploding on the music scene with exposure it had never experienced. The music, which had been confined to a rural audience in the southeastern states, was now growing to include the phenomena of the bluegrass festival and a fan base that was expanding beyond the scope that anyone had expected.
Carolyn and Johnny Vincent, who also have their names enshrined on the roster of SPBGMA Hall of Greats, took their family throughout the Midwestern United State to present the purest form of bluegrass ensemble; the family band. Midwestern audiences were captured by the emotion and abilities that The Vincent family brought to new region, which included stints where the family actually moved to Texas.
Ronda recalled how she would rush home from school and join in jam sessions. She had taken up playing the mandolin at the age of eight and proudly recalls that "Dad used to pick me up after school, and Grandpa would come over and we played until after dinner almost every night.” But this was more than a family jam session to Johnny Vincent. He had music in his soul and knew that the family calling was to make music and that the music that the family would produce would be bluegrass!
In those days, Rhonda was always around to steal the show. She has always been an entertainer and loved making music with her family. Their schedule was extensive and their music helped establish the south central United States as a solid base for the music itself. The band worked several summers as musicians in Branson, Missouri’s Silver Dollar City and recorded regularly.
Rhonda made an attempt to work in the confines of contemporary country by competing in The Nashville Network reality program You Can Be A Star and with the release of her solo recording, New Dreams And Sunshine, for Giant Records in 1988. Humorously, Rhonda Vincent’s 1988 recording was recently included on the list of Best Albums of all time, with the Worst Cover Art. The poll, which was conducted by The Huffington Post, includes classic recordings from The Beatles, Iron Maiden and The Beach Boys. However, while the poll joked about the cover art it also called the recording “one of the best bluegrass records of the past 30 years” and further offered, if you can put aside the cover art, “the performances on this extraordinary debut are all utterly thrilling.”
Rhonda signed with Rounder Records in 1999 and took the road as Rhonda Vincent & the Rage. She recorded her debut project Back Home Again in 2000 and her performance schedule is, quite likely, the most extensive in bluegrass. Rhonda as become a fan favorite and has received numerous awards from all of the national organizations that celebrate and support bluegrass, including SPBGMA. The Wall Street Journal proclaimed Vincent to be “the new queen of bluegrass,” and she continues to perform for sold out audience around the world. She has won SPBGMA’s Female Vocalist of the Year and Entertainer of the Year on a regular basis at the organization’s National Convention and has achieved numerous honors for The International Music Association and has been nominated for a Grammy award five times.
In 2010, Rhonda left Rounder Records to form her own label, Upper Management Music. The initial release on that label was titled Taken, and was furiously accepted by the hoard of fans that she has acquired over long years on the road. Over the years Rhonda has developed a link between her music and the country music of Nashville. Thus, she has become a mainstay as a guest vocalist for country and bluegrass projects; performing with the likes of Joe Diffie, Dolly Parton, Alan Jackson and Tanya Tucker. She has brought old friends and country music legends Dolly Parton and Gene Watson into the studio to add another edge to her music.
Rhonda’s companions of the road, better known as The Rage, has always been considered to be among the elite musicians in bluegrass. She hand-picks her band for their musical ability and the aptitude to connect with her audience. For Rhonda each performance is special and she never leaves a performance without spending time with her dedicated fans. One particular show comes to mind. Rhonda was performing at The Musicians Against Childhood Cancer in 2005. After the show, she sat in a chair, while a long line of devoted fans lined up for an autograph or just a kind word with her. She mentioned that she wasn’t feeling well but didn’t want to let anyone down. The next day she went into the hospital and underwent abdominal surgery. Rhonda was forced to take time from the road to recuperate. The Rage filled in admirably and Rhonda made a statement that “I'm feeling stronger every day, but I do understand that I need this time to fully recuperate. I'm determined to regain my strength and energy to be able to bring the best possible show to my fans as I return to the road.” She returned to the road on August 31.
Rhonda hits the stage like a hurricane; unchained and explosive. She doesn’t hide the fact that she’s bluegrass proud and ready to share her enthusiasm with the audience. In many ways Rhonda’s connection to her fan base brings them far closer to friends than fans. She celebrates the music and pushes her limits throughout the set. Essentially, she brings her musical vision into the psyche of each and every person in the crowd. Over the years, I’ve done a number of articles about Rhonda Vincent. I’ve discovered that she is a unique performer that believes in giving her fans the best show possible. And she always hits the stage with that mission in mind. I’ve never seen her less than gracious in concert or when talking to her fans. She’s an ambassador of bluegrass music in the first degree. The SPBGMA audience is among her most dedicated following. She’s often the headline act for the award show and frequently is called to the stage to accept individual and group awards. However, what makes Rhonda Vincent different from the rest is that she really cares about every moment that she can stand in front of that crowd and when she thanks her fans at the finale of her shows, she means every word! Believe me, this is a special trait and one that has been a part of Rhonda Vincent since her days of family jam session in Greentop, Missouri.
Rhonda is releasing her new project at the end of January entitled Only Me. It’s a two-disc set that includes a duet with Daryle Singletary and an appearance by Willie Nelson. She says the recording answers the question of whether her voice is country or bluegrass. She states that “It’s the perception of the listener.”
Rhonda Vincent is a fascinating artist who brings insight, respect and excitement to her every performance. SPBGMA is proud to welcome Rhonda Vincent as the 2014 honoree in the Hall Of Greats!