This is the second of a two-part interview with Rhonda Vincent, the Queen of Bluegrass, who hails from tiny Greentop, Mo., near Kirksville. Click here to read Part I.
Known the world over as “The Queen of Bluegrass” – a nickname she’s carried for 14 years, following an article in the Wall Street Journal – Rhonda Vincent has become one of the most recognized and honored performers in the genre.
She’s performed and made music videos with the likes of Dolly Parton and is no stranger to The Grand Ole Opry stage – yes, that Grand Ole Opry.
This time around, we ask Rhonda about her favorite genre of music, her long-time friend Dolly Parton and Missourians who influenced her career.
VisitMO: Country and bluegrass often get lumped into one category. But really, they are quite different. Can you talk about the differences between bluegrass, country and other genres?
Rhonda: Bluegrass music has an authenticity you won't find in any other genre of music, except maybe jazz or folk. It's a “what-you-see-is-what-you-get" type of music. It's not created by technology. Instead, great care is taken to find the perfect instrument, from the type of wood it's made of, to the material the pick is made from. The voices sound the same whether in the studio, on stage or standing face to face.
VisitMO: Looking around your Facebook page, you've certainly met some giants in the music industry. Is there anyone who, when you met them, made you star struck?
Rhonda: I think I still want to pinch myself when I find myself in the presence of music legends and performers I admire. In 1992, I came home to find … a message saying, “Hi, this is Dolly Parton, and I want you to come to Nashville and sing with me!” I thought it was a joke, but when I called the number back, it was really Dolly. This was at 4 in the afternoon, and I packed a bag and drove over night to Nashville. The next morning at 10, I was in the studio with Dolly Parton singing on her “Slow Dancin’ With The Moon”album.
VisitMO: You and Dolly are friends and have recorded songs and music videos together. Talk about her and the influence she’s had on your career.
Rhonda: I never dreamed in my lifetime that I would even meet Dolly Parton, let alone, sing, record, perform, and call her a friend. She is a world icon who could be anything that she wants to be. I admire not only her talents and business savvy, but most of all the kindness she shows to others. In 2005, I had a life-threatening illness – I didn’t expect to be here now. When I came home from the hospital, I found Dolly Parton standing in my living room in Kirksville, Missouri. I was moved to tears, and will never forget that incredible day she traveled the 500 miles from Nashville to Kirksville and said, “I had to make sure you were okay for myself.” She’s an incredible lady that I love dearly. I am thrilled to call her a dear friend, but I will ALWAYS be star struck every time I see Dolly.
VisitMO: You travel the country for live shows and spend your fair share of time in a neighboring state where they think they know a thing or two about music, but you've always made your home in Missouri. Why?
Rhonda: Our families are still in Northeast Missouri. It's home to us. We first of all chose to stay in Missouri when our children were small. We wanted them to go to school in what we felt was a safer environment, where at the time, we still left our doors unlocked, and the keys in our car. Missouri is still very much like that. It's that rural feel we love.
VisitMO: Are there any Missouri-born musicians from the past, or any recording currently, that you look up to/admire? Or any that you heard as a young performer and were like, "yeah, that's it ... that's the music I like!"?
Rhonda: I am so honored to know a Missouri gal named Leona Williams. Many people say I sing like her. That is a great compliment and I'm thrilled to call her a friend. Gene Hayes is a mandolin player from Kansas City that took many hours at festivals showing me things on the mandolin. Ralph Allen was a fiddler I always watched intently from Worthington, Mo. Missouri has a wealth of wonderful musicians and performers. I've been influenced by many. I love that Grand Ole Opry star Porter Waggoner was from Missouri. It makes me very proud.
VisitMO: Missouri has a rich musical history, from bluegrass to blues to country to jazz. Your career is a significant part of that history - how does it feel to be known as "The Queen of Bluegrass"?
Rhonda: That is an incredible honor given by the Wall Street Journal in 2000. I am just beginning to realize that we are influencing the young musicians we meet, or have inspired others to start playing music and to start singing. I take this very seriously and hope that we always represent our wonderful state of Missouri with dignity and class. And in sharing the news about all the fun things there are to do in Missouri, (we hope to) inspire others to visit our great state.
A great way to see Rhonda perform in person is to visit the 29th Annual Bluegrass Festival at Sally Mountain Park in Queen City, Mo., from July 1-5, 2015. Rhonda performs with her family, The Sally Mountain Show, and with her band, the Rage, during the five-day event.