Singer and actress, Rhonda Ross, was in Detroit recently to address approximately 30 teens (14 to 18 years old), who were participants in the 2nd annual Motown EDU Summer Camp, held at Don Bosco Hall Youthville in Detroit. The Motown Museum, along with General Motors, partnered to present the camp.
Ross’ parents are Berry Gordy, Jr., Motown Records’ founder and chief architect and Diana Ross, iconic pop/R&B singer and actress. Rhonda Ross, who turned 44 on the last day of camp, talked to the youth about developing and sharpening interpersonal skills. Such skills are inclusive of decision-making, problem solving, setting and reaching goals, dealing with peer pressure, and more. The students are all interested in pursuing careers in instrumental music, singing, songwriting, and related areas.
“Art is bigger and more important than brand,” Ross told the young people. “There’s a lot of talent in the world; lots of people can sing, but when you connect with what you want to say as an artist, it will fill you heart with joy and purpose and will give you the motivation to get better every day.”
Ross talked about life in general. “Life has ups and downs but when you truly know who you are you can walk the necessary road to help get you back on track,” she said. “But you have to know who you really are as a person before you can really know who you are as an artist because true art comes from within.”
Ross lives in Harlem, New York with her husband, Rodney Kendrick, a jazz composer and pianist. The two are raising a young son. Ross considers herself a musical storyteller, who lives in the gap of jazz, neo-soul, funk and gospel music. She said that she has been influenced by the late jazz-great Abbey Lincoln. Others who she admires are Nina Simone, Shirley Horn, and Billie Holiday. “I love all of these women,” said Ross. “However, I’m doing me right now. My husband convinced me that I don’t have to be a carbon copy of anyone; just be who I am.”
While Ross could rely on her famous parents for valuable industry connections, she refuses to ask. “I guard my individuality and self-fullment as an artist,” she said. “If I were to make that call to my parents to help me with connections, people would come to me with their ideas about how Berry Gordy and Diana Ross’ daughter should be singing and should be sounding and what I should look like. I don’t want that to happen because it would stop my fulfilment as an artist. I’m not willing to live like that. I’m going to wake up every day and not just build my career, but explore and find myself, just like any other artists.”
Additionally to her singing career, Ross has had acting roles on the NBC soap opera “Another World,” “Dream to Fly” on Showtime, and in the NBC Movie of the Week “The Temptations.” She has also directed two stage productions: Adrienne Kennedy’s “The Owl Answers” and August Wilson’s “The Piano Lesson.”
“I like what Rhonda Ross is doing and what she said about making it on her own,” said camper Gregory Cook, Jr., 15, a junior at University of Detroit Jesuit. “I like that she is being true to herself, her art, and not asking for favors.”
Ross’ message was delivered one day after Motown artist, KEM, gave a similar talk. KEM spoke to the campers about how to succeed in the entertainment industry, but stressed the importance of making critical, but good personal decisions along the way.
Created and operated by Motown Museum, Motown EDU Summer Camp was opened to a limited number of Detroit area high school students, all aspiring to become artists in the music industry.
“This camp offers encouragement and inspiration for kids to pursue entrepreneurship—which was a critical aspect of the Motown story—as a viable path for their futures,” said Robin R. Terry, chairwoman and CEO of Motown Museum’s board of trustees. “It allows us to reinforce our mission to protect and preserve the Motown legacy, while providing an educational platform to emerging talent in our community. Our goal is to spark the creative spirit that was the cornerstone to Motown while developing an understanding of the skills required to own and run a successful business.”