A few weeks before community spread and social distancing mandates, I attended a Diana Ross concert with no idea who the opening act would be. It turned out to be daughter, Rhonda Ross. Of course, Diana was the reason I went to the concert, and she was sensational. But I was blown away by daughter Rhonda’s voice and her stellar stage presence. A singer/songwriter in her own right, she brought the house down with her own unique style and voice. It was obvious that, following in her mom’s footsteps, Rhonda has the chops to make it big with her latest album, “In Case You Didn’t Know.”
When Diana announced that after the show they had to pack up their bus and move on to the next city and that she hadn’t bus toured since the Supremes, I started to wonder what it must be like behind the scenes for the mother-daughter duo—with a grueling schedule, opening each night from city to city. I was curious as to how they maintain work/life balance and wellness on the road far away from home: good sleep, nutrition and exercise. I was fortunate to catch up with Rhonda after their Charlotte, NC performance before Rhonda announced they were cancelling their sold-out tour for the safety of fans due to the Coronavirus outbreak. I was immediately captivated by her when she said, “There’s only one Diana Ross, but there’s only one Rhonda Ross,” and my ears perked up.
Born to two iconic figures, record producer Berry Gordy and Diana Ross, this daughter of privilege has gone on to move out of the shadows of parental greatness and find her own “greatness.” We chatted about what it’s like behind the glitter and glamour, the incredible costumes and the iconic voices. As we talked, I realized I was speaking to a woman who knew herself more than most. In addition to her talent, I was even more captivated by the performer’s winning spirit and wisdom. Here’s Part 1 of my interview with Rhonda Ross:
Bryan Robinson: Thank you so much, Rhonda, for taking time out of your busy tour to speak with me. You know, as an audience member, I enjoyed your show so much. You and your mom are such incredible entertainers. But as a psychotherapist who has worked with many high profile people, I also know that behind the scenes there is another reality because this is your work and it’s hard work. What is it like living on the road night after night for weeks on end?
Rhonda Ross: There’s a wonderful schedule in which we all get into the routine. In three and a half weeks we do 13 to 14 shows—all one-nighters. We have two to three shows in a row then one day off. We check out of the hotel around two o’clock in the afternoon and get on the tour bus. The bus is like a condo on wheels. It’s fabulous. For a long time, my mother used plane charters, and it was exhausting. Everyone was trying to convince Mom to use a tour bus and she said, “I haven’t used a tour bus since I was with the Supremes.” And they said, “They’ve come a long way!” (laughs). It’s called a star coach with everything you can imagine. You might as well be home. At the venue, we sound check, do makeup and do the show. Then an hour or so after the show, we hop on the bus and go to the next venue. Everything you saw on that stage comes with us. We travel with three buses and a truck. That’s the routine which really helps.
Robinson: So you can sleep, eat, talk watch TV . . .
Ross: Yes, our meals are regular and sleep is surprisingly regular. The environment on this tour that my mother has established—that I have learned from her and take on— is a real professionalism, a real civility, good mental health. There’s no partying, no groupies, no fans on the bus no drinking or druging. Most of us go to the gym and workout. Although the shows are one-nighters, they have a lot of sense underlying them because there’s a routine.
Robinson: Sounds like there’s a framework, a structure of health.
Ross: A healthy structure with a lot of time built in. A lot of time that one can use however they choose. Some people sleep more, some people work out more, some people get their paperwork done and some people walk the city we’re in.
Robinson: Tell me about your self-care.
Ross: As a woman, wife and mother, as focused on parenting as I am, being on tour is like a forced retreat where I can focus on myself, as opposed to all of the focus I put into parenting. I was nervous before I left, talking to a girlfriend thinking, “Oh, it’s three and a half weeks.” And she said, “It’s going to be great for you. You’re going to have all this time for you.” And that’s how I approached it. I spend a lot of time in meditation. I work out everyday on tour. I drink a lot of water, no coffee or soda. I’m consciously getting as much water in me as I can. This tour has given me the time for songwriting and running my life, responding to emails. The time is really precious. I go to bed early and get up early. But having the time to put the focus on my own life, health and well-being as a wife and mother it’s hard to do that. We tend to put ourselves low on the totem pole. It does feel counter-intuitive. But I’m in a very blessed position because I have a husband who is not only a great father, but wants to father and looks forward to that time with his son. So I can leave with peace of mind.
Robinson: Rhonda, what is the biggest challenge to your personal power?
Ross: Probably being a mother and my parenting. I want to give my son so much. There’s a balance in how much is my work to give him and how much he’s come to this planet with and how much is his to work out. I feel that more is for him to work out than I give him space to do. The next challenge is with my husband being coupled and married and finding your own personal power. When do I put the airplane oxygen mask on myself and when do I put it on my son, my husband, my mother or my siblings. And so many things inform those decisions.
Robinson: You grew up with two iconic parents with such talented siblings. How has your talented family influenced your life?
Ross: I’m extremely lucky to get the best of two worlds. Both of my parents are still here and that’s such a blessing. Both of them were personally empowered. They were very clear that they weren’t waiting for anybody’s permission to do anything. They weren’t waiting for anybody’s permission to love themselves, to believe in themselves, to go for it, to dream big or any of that. I had a first row seat to that, which could have placed a shadow over me, made me insecure or made me think they can do it, but I can’t do it or they have something I don’t have. For some reason, I was given a feeling that what was in them was also within me. I was able to do it in my own way. I didn’t have to copy them or try to be the second coming of them. I was worthy of finding my own truth and my own authenticity and my own life and beaming that life around me the way they beamed their life around them. I don’t know how they offered that to me, but they did. I’ve seen so many children of big personalities who don’t have that experience. They feel cowed by it, but I’m not and neither are my siblings. I credit my mother with that. She allowed for us to have our own and to know that our own was important. Because I was the child of these two people, I knew really early that I had to be me and have my own. If not, I was going to get swallowed up in this desire that the world had for me to be the copycat. I like to say there’s no copying Diana Ross. Anybody who tries to copy Diana Ross is going to get their feelings hurt because there’s only one Diana Ross. But there’s only one Rhonda Ross. So my work since elementary school has been to find out who Rhonda Ross is and to be as loyal to that as possible. I don’t know that I would’ve had that challenge had I not been the child of these two big icons.
Rhonda Ross joins Resiliency 2020 on Zoom September 10, 2020. You can register for the free live-streaming webinar at resiliency2020.com.