Rhonda Vincent

Bluegrass Artist

Rhonda Vincent
The Rage

The Orange Blossom Opry
Saturday, January 20th, 2007

For bluegrass music's 2001 Entertainer of the Year and four-time Female Vocalist of the Year, everything changed when she took charge of her destiny.  I finally said to myself, "OK, if I want it done my way, I'll have to do it myself."  "I came to a crossroads," says Rhonda, "and that's when I put my first real band together.  Before that, I really wasn't in charge of the music that I was playing."

When she signed with Rounder Records, Vincent established a clarity of vision which led to two masterful albums, "Back Home Again" (2000) and "The Storm Still Rages" (2001).  She produced both of them herself.  That self-determination shines even brighter on "One Step Ahead", an album that finds her at the peak of her powers as a singer, songwriter, producer and instrumentalist.

"When I first signed with Rounder, we had a meeting," she recalls.  "And from the beginning, the label and I were on the same page.  We both felt that there was a void to be filled by a female singing truly traditional bluegrass.  Once I made that commitment, the response was really overwhelming."

"And it turned out to be the perfect time to do that.  I think people are seeking out the authenticity of acoustic music right now.  All of a sudden, a new trend has started happening.  You know, there used to be this brick wall you'd come up against.  You wouldn't even think about doing television, but now all kinds of things are opening up.  The "O Brother" phenomenon happened, and we got to do some dates on the "Down from the Mountain" tour.  We do PBS television specials with people like Vince Gill.  We just did a bluegrass cruise in the Caribbean.  All of these opportunities are being offered to us, and it's wonderful."

"One Step Ahead" places Rhonda Vincent at the forefront of this roots-music movement.  Her yearning, heartfelt soprano salutes bluegrass forefathers The Osborne Brothers on a stunning, harmony-drenched rendition of the lovely waltz "Pathway of Teardrops."  Her recording of the gospel chestnut "Walking My Lord Up Calvary's Hill" is a homage to Wilma Lee Cooper, one of the first female bluegrass artists.

Vincent turned to Music Row in Nashville to find the wistfully sweet and sad "You Can't Take It With You When You Go" as well as the country-as-cornbread "An Old Memory Found Its Way Back."  On the other hand, the mournful "Missouri Moon" comes from a songwriter from Vincent's home state.  "Fishers of Men" showcases the performer as the leader of an a cappella gospel quartet.  Vincent's lightning mandolin licks accompany fiddle prodigy Molly Cherryholmes on "Frankie Belle," the album's dazzling instrumental.

But many of this record's highlights are Rhonda Vincent's own compositions co-written with the award winning Bluegrass Broadcaster of the Year - Terry Herd.  The uptempo "Kentucky Borderline" and "One Step Ahead of the Blues" sound for all the world like bluegrass standards instead of newly composed songs.  "Ridin' the Red Line" is a trucker's homecoming tune.  "Caught in the Crossfire" proves that she can create a "message" song, in this case a minor-key lament about divorce.  And then there's the jovial "Martha White Song," Vincent's tip of the hat to her tour sponsor.

In 2002, the bluegrass star's picture was on the front of 19 million Martha White blueberry muffin mix packages in supermarkets nationwide.  Her tour bus sports Martha White's logo with her portrait.  The company has saluted her as one of its "Legends of American Music."

She's certainly put in enough years to qualify as a "legend."  Rhonda Vincent began performing in her parents' bluegrass band at age 3 and was performing on their local TV show when she was 5.  A year later, the Vincent family began broadcasting over KIRX radio in Kirksville, MO.  Before she left her teens, she'd been a member of the "house band" at the Frontier Jamboree and Six Shooter tourist attractions.

"My dad would usually pick me up at school early, and we would play until dinner time.  After dinner, we'd play until bedtime.  And this was an every-night occurrence.  For the most part, I never thought about it being unusual because this was our way of life.  It wasn't looked at as a career.  This was just what we did."

The mandolinist and fiddler made her recording debut while still a child, and by the time she turned 23, she'd recorded eight LPs as a member of her family's group The Sally Mountain Show.  Papa Johnny Vincent led the group, which also included Rhonda's brothers Brian and Darrin, mama Carolyn and assorted other relatives.

"When I became a teenager, there were some rebellious times," Vincent recalls. "I can remember wanting to go skating with the other kids or wanting to spend the night with friends.  But that wasn't a choice."

She competed on TV's "You Can Be a Star" in Nashville in 1985 and came to the attention of the show's host, Grand Ole Opry star Jim Ed Brown.  He hired her for his band, but she soon returned home to Missouri.  Rhonda Vincent's first solo recordings were a trio of albums released from 1988-1991.  These earned her a mainstream country recording contract with Giant Records, for whom she recorded two CDs from 1993-95.

"Before I went into country music, people at bluegrass festivals would say, "Your voice is so country.  You should get into country music."  Then when I got into it, the first thing they said was, "Can't you get the bluegrass out of your voice?"

Her fellow musicians didn't care about any of that.  Dolly Parton, Randy Travis and Alison Krauss were among the Nashville celebrities who knew greatness when they heard it.  All of them harmonized with her in the studio.

"When I got into country music, I look at that as my college education.  I was working with top producers, learning microphones, studios and musicians.  I was soaking in information, everything from publishing to songwriting to management.  Before that, I was always in the safety of my family."

"Then I came to that crossroads and said, "Am I going to continue to pursue the country or the bluegrass?"  So I put together a band and did a few festivals.  What really sold it for me was when we opened a show for George Jones with the bluegrass band.  When we came off stage it was like a mob scene.  Everyone was going, "We really like your kind of country music." Well, it was bluegrass.  Whatever you want to call it, I'm just glad they liked it.  That was when I realized, "This is what you should be doing."

The bluegrass community agrees.  Rhonda Vincent was named its Entertainer of the Year in 2001 and its Female Vocalist of the Year in 2000, 2001 and 2002.  Her first two Rounder albums are among the top sellers in her field.  Newsweek, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, The Boston Globe and Country Music magazine have all hailed these albums as being among the finest bluegrass records of our time.

"One Step Ahead" showcases an artist in full bloom.  Brother Darrin, who is now a member of Ricky Skaggs' band Kentucky Thunder, returns to his sister's side to provide thrilling vocal harmonies.  Stuart Duncan, Aubrey Haynie and Bryan Sutton head a list of stellar instrumentalists recruited for this project.  But it is the heart-piercing beauty of Rhonda Vincent's talent that remains at the center of this extraordinary album.  The former child prodigy is now a woman who is helping to lead one of the most exciting American musical movements in years.

"Young women are coming up to me now and saying, "I just got a mandolin, and I'm going to learn to play it just like you."  It's great to have the young gals come up and say, "I sing your songs."  It's great that they're getting involved with the instruments.  There are a lot of young people out there who will keep the traditions of this music alive.  I love that."

"Everyone is saying this new album is going to take us to the next level.  I'm not sure what that means.  I'm just thrilled with everything I'm doing.  I know I'm on the right path now."

Rhonda Vincent's Web Site

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