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American Routes Shortcuts: Rhonda Vincent

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Rhonda Vincent

Rhonda Vincent grew up in a five-generation musical family from Greentop, Missouri, a tiny town near the Iowa border.  Her father led the family band, the Sally Mountain Show, as they traveled the Midwest bluegrass circuit in the 1970s.  Rhonda was Missouri State Fiddle Champion.  She's gone on to become a bluegrass band leader with her group, The Rage, winning a Grammy and being inducted at the Grand Ole Opry.  Her daughters Sally and Tensel are also musicians.  For Rhonda, it all started when her dad needed more players at a family gig.

Rhonda Vincent: I'm eight years old, we're at Marceline, Missouri, and they decided anybody who didn't play an instrument didn't get paid, and each musician was getting $10 each. So, my dad said, "Here's the mandolin.” He showed me G, C, and D, and he said, "You're gonna be playing this for two-and-a-half hours every Saturday night,” so we got the $10, you know?

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RV: My dad would say, "Take it Rhonda.” Well, take what? So I started working out mandolin solos so when Dad said, "Take it Rhonda,” whether it was on stage or wherever, you know, I started learning to pick out the songs. So that's how I started playing. Then when I got to be twelve, he said, "All right, fiddle is tuned the same way as a mandolin. It's time you learned that.” He would always get us started on an instrument, and then we would take it from there.

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RV: Now, he also picked me up from school each day, and we would get home, and we would sing and play until dinner, he and my grandpa and I. After dinner, friends came over. There was a music party at our house every single night. I thought everybody else was doing the same thing at their house.

Nick Spitzer: Why do you think you had such a desire to reach out beyond your family into bluegrass and country music that takes you down the highway and away from Sally Mountain and Greentop?

RV: When you're performing with your family, there's a security in that. You know, if you just think about getting in a motor home and traveling with family, I just loved it. I love the music; I love the family heritage. It's just what we did, and realistically you didn't really question it, but people started saying, "You should go out on your own.” It's like, I had no concept on to do that.

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NS: I was thinking, if there's any stronger aspect of your bona fides in all of this is your love of Martha White flour.

RV: Oh, [laughs], my dad would turn on the radio at 5:45 A.M. every day. We listened to the Martha White show with Flatt and Scruggs. They kicked off the Mar- [vocalizes] You know, they would kick off the Martha White song. It's 2001, and Martha White ran a contest with their jingle. Well, I missed the deadline for the jingle. I think it was six months later; I wrote a letter, said, "I would love to represent your company. I taught my daughters to cook with your Martha White muffin mix, and I've recorded your song.” They wrote back, and they said, "We would like to talk to you. What is it that you want?” And I said, "Well I need transportation. I'm traveling around in a Buick LeSabre with four people with a bass in the middle.” We started out small and built our way up to where I got to customize a brand-new bus for us. Martha White became a part of everything that I did. My husband said, "We could not have a single meal without getting a picture of the cornbread, or whatever we're eating." So, I could post it!

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RV: It's that perfect example that God, you know, he provides what we need, not necessarily what we want.

NS: And one thing you didn't necessarily want was getting on the Grand Ole Opry and becoming a member. And that did happen.

RV: It's kind of a dream that I had, you know, thought, "Well, this is not gonna happen,” and when Jeannie Seely said, "How would you like to be the next member of the Grand Ole Opry?” I nearly fell over. In fact, I said, "Are you serious?” I just didn't believe it was true. That is truly proof that dreams come true.

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To hear the full program, tune in Saturdays at 5 and Sundays at 6 on WWNO, or listen at americanroutes.org.