She is referred to as the, “Queen of Bluegrass.” And, you know what? She is. Go ahead and listen for yourself. Most artists in bluegrass will record a gospel song or two on about every recording project. And they’ll sing one or two in concert. Not Rhonda. She records entire gospel albums and always features multiple gospel songs every time she hits the stage. Why? Because it’s important to her. This month’s feature is on the Queen of Bluegrass, Rhonda Vincent.
Les Butler: What is your earliest musical memory?
Rhonda Vincent: My earliest musical memory was performing when I was probably five years old, on what was known as the Jerry Lewis Telethon. I grew up in a musical family in Greentop, Missouri. Music is traced back five generations, and now six generations, as Sally is carrying on the tradition. We had driven up to Ottumwa, Iowa, to be on the telethon at 3:00 a.m. Our performance was around 5:00 a.m., and I decided I wasn’t going to sing. Well, my Dad took me in the back room and convinced me that I was going to sing. I can remember seeing myself in the TV monitor. Tears were streaming down my face, but I was singing the Bicycle Song, and people thought I was just acting out the wreck in song.
LB: What’s the first instrument you tried to play?
RV: My Dad gave me a snare drum, stand, and a set of brushes for my sixth birthday. I became the drummer for my family band The Sally Mountain Show.
LB: State the instruments you play?
RV: I started playing snare drum at six. Started the mandolin at eight. Fiddle at 12, guitar at 16, and throughout my teen years, I would get take turns learning many other instruments like the banjo and bass. I played autoharp on an award show. I play most any stringed instrument. Some better than others. The mandolin is my main instrument.
LB: If you could only have one instrument on a desert island, which one would it be?
RV: I would take my mandolin. I am most comfortable with that instrument, and I can play rhythm or pick out a tune on the mandolin.
LB: Who are your favorite musicians on each of the instruments you play?
RV: Buck White is my favorite mandolin player, as well as my favorite piano player. Stuart Duncan, is my favorite fiddler. He just has a sweet tone. Kevin Grant is my favorite bass player. Ron Stewart is one of my favorite banjo players. Tony Rice is my favorite guitar player.
LB: Growing up in a musical family, did you ever have a desire to do something else?
RV: I really didn’t know anything else. I majored in accounting in college, and I also took a few photography classes. I loved learning about new things that I had interest in. I loved photography, and even ruined the white carpet in my parents bathroom by setting up a dark room in their bathroom.
LB: Who dubbed you as the Queen of Bluegrass?
RV: January 2000, the Wall Street Journal named me The New Queen of Bluegrass. Later, the National Old Time Music Organization held a ceremony and gave me a crown, deeming me the Queen of Bluegrass.
LB: You’ve done it all…or have you? What are a couple of the biggest/coolest things you’ve ever done? What haven’t you done that you’d like to do?
RV: I’d love to meet and record with James Taylor. I love his music. I feel very blessed and thankful to have been given many opportunities. I’m honored to have performed on the Grand Ole Opry 214 times. Love working with Dolly (Parton) and pinch myself remembering how she came to my house in Missouri. I value her friendship very much and admire her kindness and humbleness. So many things, and I look forward to every new opportunity that comes my way.
LB: Which do you enjoy the most: Playing live or in the studio?
RV: I love performing live and having the chance to meet the audience. The studio is a necessity. I can’t say I enjoy it as much. I love when a recording is completed. The process usually gives me a bit of stress, trying to make the best musical creation we can make.
LB: You are a great singer. Do you recall the first song you ever sang in public?
RV: Thank you very much. I think my first song was the Bicycle Song. I also recorded with my family band in 1967, and I sang two songs for the recording.
LB: What is your favorite song to play and why?
RV: I really enjoy performing the song “Please,” which is a duet with Dolly Parton. I just never get tired of singing that song, and I love the message it says, which is, “Please….let me grow old with you.”
LB: Do you write? If so, what’s the favorite song you’ve written?
RV: I write on occasion. The song that always gets a consistently amazing response, and usually a standing ovation in the show, is titled, “His Promised Land,” a gospel song I wrote, ironically, while visiting Las Vegas.
LB: When you’re not picking and singing, what are you doing?
RV: I’m always doing something. Usually catching up on bills, email, computing royalties, and any other business-related work.
LB: Give us a brief testimony…
RV: I was saved when I was eight years old during a youth meeting in Greentop, Missouri. The preacher gave an invitation. I remember feeling an urgency to go to the altar. God was speaking to my heart. We have been through so many trials and difficulties. I am so thankful I have a Savior who never fails me. No matter the situation I’m going through, God is always the answer. My daily prayer is asking God to strengthen my walk in faith, and his will for my life, and my acceptance of that will.
By Les Butler
First Published by SGNScoops Magazine February 2020