May 3, 2008
We talk a lot about country artists who cross over to pop, only to find that the crossover audience isn’t as friendly as the one they left behind. When Rhonda Vincent left bluegrass to cross over to mainstream country music, she didn’t stay away for long, but she received one hell of a homecoming when she went back to her bluegrass roots.
Vincent had been a multi-faced performer from the start. She grew up on stage, playing in her family’s band, The Sally Mountain Show. Her skill with the mandolin, guitar and fiddle was prodigious, and she was soon well-established enough to go out on her own. She gained exposure from a stint on the TNN reality contest, You Can Be a Star, and began singing with Opry legend Jim Ed Brown. By the end of the eighties, she was recording for Rebel Records.
Over the course of just three years, she released four studio albums for Rebel, the final of which – Timeless and True Love – brought her the most critical acclaim. It also caught the attention of James Stroud, a producer who was establishing a Nashville office for Giant Records. The label was off to a strong start with Clay Walker and Carlene Carter, and he thought that Rhonda Vincent had mainstream country potential.
She signed with the label, and released her first country album in 1993, Written in the Stars. It featured “Mama Knows the Highway,” which would become a hit for Hal Ketchum that same year, and “I’m Not Over You,” which she would record again in 2002.
When the album didn’t catch on, Vincent was stuck in limbo for three years. She resurfaced at Warner Bros. and released her second country album, Trouble Free, in 1996. It was a stellar album, far more traditional and featuring gorgeous harmonies from Alison Krauss and Dolly Parton. When the album didn’t meet expectations, however, her deal came to an end.
Vincent chose to rededicate herself to her first love of bluegrass music, and when she returned to the genre at the turn of the century, she found an adoring audience waiting for her. Since releasing Back Home Again in 2000, Rhonda Vincent has been a bluegrass superstar. She won the IBMA Female Vocalist award an unprecedented seven times, breaking the record of five held by Alison Krauss.
When a car accident kept her from live auditions, she hired her band over the internet. She dubbed them The Rage, and they lived up to their names. Rhonda Vincent & The Rage quickly astounded audiences on the bluegrass circuit, and they were honored with the IBMA Entertainer of the Year award in 2001.
Ironically, it was her return to bluegrass that brought Vincent her most mainstream success. Her albums now regularly impact the country charts, and she’s become a regular on the country music video channels. For nearly a decade, she’s been the leading female ambassador of bluegrass music, proving that you can indeed go home again.
- “What More Do You Want From Me,” 1996
- “I’m Not Over You,” 2002
- “You Can’t Take it With You,” 2004
- “If Heartaches Had Wings,” 2005
- “Heartbreaker’s Alibi” (with Dolly Parton), 2006
- Timeless and True Love (1991)
- Trouble Free (1996)
- The Storm Still Rages (2001)
- One Step Ahead (2003)
- Ragin’ Live (2005)
- IBMA Female Vocalist of the Year – 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005 & 2006
- IBMA Entertainer of the Year – 2001
- IBMA Song of the Year – “Kentucky Borderline”, 2004