“This is Rhonda… and SHE is funky!” - Prince
Redefining the role of gifted musicians who are also equally-gifted vocalists, confessional singer/songwriter and bass player Rhonda Smith, is one of music’s great undiscovered treasures. As a vocalist, the pearly tone songstress is lyrically sophisticated with emotional depth that is both admirable and technically brilliant, and as a musician, she has sparked several genres of music including smooth jazz/funk and electrified funk/rock, which only touch the tip of her creative abilities.
Rhonda, who released her debut record “Intellipop” in 2000, has played bass for and toured with the revolutionary Prince for close to a decade; and anyone familiar with the Purple Majesty’s stringent work ethic knows that in order to be a part of his innovative ensemble, artistic perfection is a non-negotiable requirement. “This is Rhonda and she is funky” is the chant heard and sung by millions of Prince fans at shows on 5 continents. But make no mistake; the funk is only the tip of the iceberg. Taking the incalculable experience of working alongside one of the industry’s most revered pioneering talents, along with a treasure trove of perfect melodies, Rhonda has skillfully packaged it all in a disc that will surely give her the respect she rightfully deserves.
RS2, Rhonda’s sophomore CD, is a breakout and breakthrough record that beautifully showcases the genius talent in her element. “My approach to music is always 110 percent and I love to play and write about what I feel at that moment and let what comes out of me come out and I hope that people dig it.” And people do dig it, especially His Royal Badness, who also appears on RS2. While the legendary visionary has undoubtedly influenced Smith as a businesswoman and artist, she is quick to point out that she is not a Prince clone. “I don’t have a Prince sound like some may assume since I’ve played with him for so long. His basic principles in business and his principles in music definitely have something to do with my record. Although I ultimately respect and love what he does, I’m not Prince.”
It comes as no surprise that the ambitious musician with a storied career that spans over two decades, comes from a musical family. Born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, the oldest black community in Canada, she and her family moved to the French and Jazz-influenced Montreal while she was a child. There, she was surrounded by the sounds of piano riffs, her mother’s instrument of choice, as well as a lot of rock & roll. As a child, Smith, who has three siblings that are also musically-inclined, learned how to play the baritone horn, keyboard, guitar and of course, bass. “My older brother is the reason why I play bass. He brought a bass home one day and told me not to touch it.”
Rhonda attended McGill University in Montreal where she studied jazz performance. While at McGill, she began touring Canada with different rock groups, usually as the sole female artist proving that she could hang with her male counterparts. She worked with many notable Canadian artists including Claude Dubois, Daniel Lavoie, Robert Charlebois, and Joanne Blouin. She won a coveted Juno Award (The Canadian equivalent of a Grammy) for Best Contemporary Jazz Album for her work with Jim Hillman and The Merlin Factor.
A chance meeting with Sheila E. at a music convention in Germany lead to her long tenure with Prince. “Sheila knew that Prince was putting a new band together so I gave her my press kit and she sent it to him. I didn’t hear from him for 2 months and I thought he wasn’t going to call… but thankfully he did. I flew up to Paisley Park and my audition was basically a jam session with him and a drummer. Suffice it to say he liked what he heard. The same day he had me in the studio recording bass parts on the Emancipation album.”
Since coming to the U.S, Rhonda’s resume reads like a Who’s Who of the music industry. In addition to her work with Prince, she has performed with Chaka Khan, Beyonce, T. I., Erykah Badu, Patti Austin, Patrice Rushen, Brenda Russell, Lee Ritenour, Larry Graham, Patti Labelle, Little Richard, Justin Timberlake, Najee, Candy Dulfer, Kirk Whalum and George Clinton… to name a few!
Rhonda is no stranger to the camera either. She has been featured in numerous music videos, appeared on the covers of Bass Player and Bassics magazines and even spent stints with The Martin Short Show and The Wayne Brady Show. She has 3 Platinum Plaques on her wall and in 2004 played for 1.4 million attendees over 88 sold-out dates on Prince’s wildly successful Musicology Tour.
Recorded and performed primarily in Atlanta, RS2 is an inventive disc that favors solid instrumentation and radiant harmonies, with Rhonda’s voice flowing gorgeously over the unpredictable beats. The album is plush and detailed with an abundance of virtuoso performances including a surprising duet with gospel superstar Fred Hammond. The diversity and musicality of the album draw obvious comparisons to Prince. However, “Ms. Rhonda” clearly has her own unique identity and sound. “This record tells a story. We made a conscious effort to assemble an album that people can listen to from top to bottom without having to hit the skip button. No filler allowed.” No filler indeed. Experience Rhonda’s breakthrough… RS2
Photo: Ron MacDonald
Band Photo: Bill Reitzel
NARADA MICHAEL WALDEN