There’s been an argument in the world of music for decades about “crossovers,” where an artist of one genre records songs that fit in another. But as five-time Grammy Award winner Rhonda Vincent says, “it’s all in the perception of the listener.”
Vincent’s release this spring shows that whether her legions of fans consider her a bluegrass artist or a country artist, she’s in fact both. That’s what’s made her latest album, “Only Me,” a number one seller. Releasing a 2-disc set isn’t unusual in today’s music business, but in this case, each disc has a separate genre—country on one, bluegrass on the other.
“I sang at a country family reunion where I got to do country music as well as some bluegrass, and everyone realized that there doesn’t need to be a separation between the two. As a songwriter or performer, you can do and enjoy both,” Vincent said in an interview for On and Beyond from her home in Missouri. That’s the case with “Only Me,” where she teams up with musical legends Daryle Singletary and Willie Nelson for tracks on her bluegrass disc, then steps into the country realm on the second disc. On every track, Vincent shows she’s comfortable in both arenas.
“This is the way I’ve always performed,” she said. “For a long time, I was so confused by this—whether I should sing bluegrass or country—because my voice has always been the same and I’ve had people tell me I was one or the other. George Jones defined that for me after I ended up putting together my first bluegrass band and we opened for him at the (Grand Old) Opry. He’s the one who said ‘it’s all in the perception of the listener.’ He told me to sing what I wanted to sing. On the day he died, I played at the Opry and picked ‘When the Grass Grows Over Me,’ which I later recorded for this album. That’s when I realized I could do a project that includes both kinds of songs.”
Vincent has been performing since the age of 5—her family all performed together. In 2000, the Wall Street Journal proclaimed her “The Queen of Bluegrass,” and she won consecutive Female Vocalist of the Year awards from the International Bluegrass Music Association for seven years.
She wrote a song called “Teardrops Over You” when she was 16, but never recorded it until she stepped into the studio for “Only Me.”
“My daughters had recorded it when they were in college,” she recalled. “I don’t know why I’d never done it before. That song was written with George Jones in mind, so I guess it was meant to be.”
She’d only met Nelson once before, when they performed at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville in 2009.
“I always saw him at the state fair, but he was kind of like Dolly Parton—someone I thought I’d never get to perform with, and I wasn’t sure if he’d agree to work with me on the album. It seemed like a natural fit for the country side, but I wanted to do something unique with him, and we did the title song together for the bluegrass side. It just fit so well, and he is such a sweet man. He told me, ‘Let’s do this again’.”
“The bluegrass pickers on this song are some of the best that I have ever heard,” Nelson said. “Rhonda’s voice is beautiful. I am thankful for her letting me be a part of it all.”
Vincent loves her fans, goes out of her way for meet-and-greets after concerts (she once signed autographs for FOUR hours after a performance), and is active on Facebook (“I’m RhondaVincentOfficial”) and Twitter (@RhondaVincent13). She’s on the road constantly, touring 11 months out of the year, and over July and August this year, has concerts planned in Missouri, Virginia, Pennsylvania, on an Alaskan cruise, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, Ohio, Michigan and Maine. Her website, rhondavincent.com, has all the details.
“I love what I do, and I love hearing from everyone who follows us,” she said.