Rhonda Ross Marches To Her Own Drumbeat Of Life

2016-08-17-1471445444-9550471-incaseyoudidntknowfront_2_orig.jpgRhonda Ross just wrapped up a summer tour which brought her to large, iconic festivals in Aspen and Chicago and to smaller venues dotting America's heartland.

Audiences were treated to songs from her new CD, In Case You Didn't Know, a collection of diverse music; some addressing the political, adversarial and often violent signs of our time. Others take on the personal journey of making it though today's often complex world. Ross, who wrote all of the CD's 13 tracks, has picked up her message where neo-soul greats Jill Scott and Angie Stone left off, but she's not looking to fit a label.

"I'm a woman. I'm a black woman. I'm a mother. I'm an American in the midst of being a black woman mother to a black male son. I'm a spiritual seeker. I'm an artist. I'm a creator. I'm a daughter. I'm a granddaughter. I'm a wife. I'm an entrepreneur. I'm all of these things, and I'm all of these things at once. There's no one voice coming out of me. That's what's starting to show up in my music," Ross says.

The culmination of all of Ross' experiences is creating a conversation for her listeners. Ross is not afraid to discuss the injustices toward women and minorities that she witnesses or reads about in our social media-fueled world. Her music also gives mothers who are trying to juggle career and family encouragement to enjoy all of their moments. One reoccurring through line of the CD is about women empowerment.

Ross very much lives this message. She is a Harlem resident who does advocacy work with various organizations including Hearts of Gold, which empowers homeless mothers to transition out of the shelter system. She also homeschools her 7-year-old son, Raif, who speaks four languages. Her song "Breathe" gives us a window into her world singing: "Runnin' here, runnin' there, food and shoes and clothes for your children to wear.

Ross has been married to her husband Rodney Kendrick for 19 years. She calls him a great dad and her best friend. Ross says the secret to their successful marriage has to do with acceptance. Kendrick, a musician in his own right, directed and played for the jazz great Abbey Lincoln and worked with James Brown and George Clinton.

"We have allowed each other to grow and change. I feel that some relationships don't allow that," says Ross. "We also both feel like our best days are ahead of us. Often people can feel as if their best days are behind them. That doesn't only change how you feel about yourself, but it will change any relationship you're in."

2016-08-17-1471445830-6769303-RhondaRossPerforming.jpegOne of the biggest changes for Ross is embracing and sharing with others her evolution. You can hear her growth in her songs. You can see it in her clothing style, which has gone from elegant dresses to Afrocentric attire. In the past there were times when hiding her organic self was a conscious choice. Other times she says she wasn't aware of it. Today she's constantly checking herself to find the places where she's holding back. And with In Case You Didn't Know, Ross is not holding back any longer.

"God and life and our spirit are limitless. You can go as deep into them as you choose," Ross says. "You don't know what you're going to find, but if it's something you don't like, at least you shed light on it, and that's what heals it."

Even as little girl Ross was never afraid of being in front of an audience, but when thinking about her younger self, she becomes a bit emotional.

"Isn't that funny?" she sighs. "I was never shy, but I wish that little girl knew her value and her beauty earlier than she did. She got it, but it took a minute. You never know what muscles not knowing it built. I wish she would've known her value of individuality sooner and the value of her beauty and her blackness -- the quality of her hair and her nose and her lips and her skin."

This kind of standing in one's own truth is at the root of her songwriting. Unlike traditional protest songs by legendary pioneers like Dr. Nina Simone, Ross takes her message inward. She starts in the struggle, but offers solutions to find a way through the darkness by owning her own journey. That's never more evident than in her song "Drumbeat of Life" where she tries "digest what's going on in this world; the violence leveled against our boys and girls." If it sounds like In Case You Didn't Know is part personal and part political, that's because it is. Ross brilliantly blurs the lines between the inner experience and the collective moments that we reflect as a society.

"When I think of the different instances of the police brutality that we've seen, it just seems like they have a different image of the black men and women that they are confronting than what is reality. They seem incapable of realizing that this person could be their mother, father, son or daughter." Ross says. "It comes from fear. There are many people fueling this fear."

2016-08-17-1471445945-2500237-RhondaandRaifAustinHeinPhotography.jpgIf the public is fueling the fear, Ross wants to put out the flames of ignorance through education. She's teaching her son enough to keep him safe, but says she doesn't want him walking around feeling like he's a target.

"It is the imagination and creativity of our children that will get us through this. We can't kill that in the midst of trying to protect them," she says.

Ross is like a camera -- constantly capturing all of life's moments and turning her observations into songs through her very special lens. #incaseyoudidntknow

Rhonda Ross' CD is available at www.cdbaby.com. For more information: http://therhondaross.com/

Photos: Austin Hein Productions