Bassist Rhonda Smith (Prince and the NPG, Jeff Beck)
Episode 5020th February 2021 • Musicians Reveal • Joe Kelley
00:00:00 00:14:01

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With an enviable career that has spanned over two decades, it is no surprise that Rhonda hails from musical lineage. Born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, the family moved to the French and Jazz-influenced Montreal while Rhonda was still 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, Rhonda and her three musically-inclined siblings, 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.” 

In an effort to deepen her connection to music, Rhonda attended McGill University in Montreal where she studied jazz performance.   During her college stint, she began touring as one of a small group of female artists within the local male dominated rock music scene. This experience helped to build her chops when it came time for Rhonda to win the respect and admiration of her male counterparts.  She went on to work 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 opened the doors to Rhonda’s lengthy tenure with his Royal Badness, 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.”

Having received International acclaim for her various contributions and collaborations, it wasn’t long before Rhonda took the United States by storm.  In addition to the near decade she spent along side Prince, Rhonda has performed with the likes of Chaka Khan, Beyonce, T. I., Erykah Badu, Patti Austin, Patrice Rushen, Brenda Russell, Lee Ritenour, Larry Graham, Patti Labelle, Little Richard, Najee, Candy Dulfer, Rachel Farrell, Kirk Whalum and George Clinton.

With an innate desire to extend her reach, Rhonda has managed to step outside of music and broaden her imprint.  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.

Despite her bevy of accomplishments, there was yet another frontier that Rhonda was compelled to conquer.  Recording Artist.  Released in 2000, “Intellipop” marked Rhonda’s first release as a soloist. Taking the incalculable experience of working alongside some of the industry’s most revered pioneering talents, along with a treasure trove of perfect melodies, Rhonda skillfully packaged it all in a disc that earned her the respect she rightfully deserves.

RS2, Rhonda’s sophomore CD, is a breakout and breakthrough record that beautifully showcases the genius talent this gifted musician possesses.  “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.” The album includes a surprising duet with gospel superstar Fred Hammond among other memorable collaborations.  The diversity and musicality of the album asserts clearly that Rhonda has cultivated 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.” 

While riding the high of RS2, Rhonda agreed to lend her extraordinary talent to the formation of the all-girl super group, C.O.E.D. (Chronicles of Every Diva.)  Teaming up with some of the most famous female musicians of our time, Rhonda joined the ranks of legendary percussionist Sheila E., keyboardist, Cassondra O’Neal, guitarist, Kat Dyson, and saxophonist, Candy Dulfer.  As the stage is being set for C.O.E.D. to dominate the Rock & Funk worlds respectively, Rhonda has also spent time cultivating her own band, Rhonda Smith and Karma Deuce.  In typical Rhonda Smith fashion, the band has already been featured on Michael Baisden’s Baisden After Dark and has enjoyed touring success in Europe.  As if her creative cup wasn’t full, Rhonda can also be found currently touring with guitar legend, Jeff Beck.