Rhonda Ross is appearing with her mother Diana Ross on the “In the Name of Love Tour” in the Bay Area this week. (Courtesy Austin Hein Photography)

Motown progeny Rhonda Ross makes her own music

Singer-songwriter Rhonda Ross is enjoying spending time, professionally and personally, with her mother, Diana Ross.

“We are working together in a way we never have before,” says Ross, who appears on her mom’s “In the Name of Love Tour,” in the Bay Area this week.

Rhonda’s set, before Diana’s, showcases original tunes from her new, 14-track self-released album “In Case You Didn’t Know,” which celebrates freedom and is “expansive,” drawing from jazz, rock, folk, gospel and R&B.

Even though her dad is mogul Berry Gordy, she says, “I’m not singing ‘Baby Love.’ It’s not a Motown tribute show.”

The new recording is a different sound for Ross, who played jazz in clubs with her husband, pianist-composer Rodney Kendrick (and was mentored by Abbey Lincoln), but hasn’t, in decades of professional singing, performed with her mother on a big tour that has a bus.

“I’m loving every aspect of it,” says Ross, adding, “I’ve been married for over 20 years; she’s got five kids. It’s rare for an adult mother and daughter to have this kind of opportunity.”

It also represents the first time she’s closely witnessing a tour’s inner workings and her mother’s acumen: “She’s an incredible businesswoman; she looks at every detail, knows where every penny is,” says Ross.

Some of that entrepreneurial aptitude rubbed off on Rhonda, who also owns a New York-based residential real estate brokerage (which she started because she didn’t like experiences she was having with agents).

She’s also been successful – to the tune of an Emmy nomination – for acting in the late 1990s on the soap opera “Another World,” a gig she picked up after graduating from Brown University, where she studied African-American history.

“It was great training ground,” says the longtime East Coaster.

Calling herself the “lone ranger” — the only of Diana’s five children not living on the West Coast — Ross attributes her sense of well being to the way her mother raised her family: “We sat down for dinner at 6 every night.”

She adds, “I was born in 1971, smack dab in the middle of the peak of her fame, yet she remained hands-on and present. She made sure we knew we were her priority.”

There was consistency, says Ross, and “clear boundaries between the public and personal,” unlike today’s celebrity culture “where the line between what should be shared and what shouldn’t is so blurred.”

Rhonda and her half-siblings (sisters Tracee and Chudney’s father is Diana’s first husband Robert Silberstein; brothers Evan and Ross Naess’ dad is her second husband Arne Naess Jr.) are similarly proud to be Diana’s children: “We don’t feel lost in her shadow,” says Rhonda, “and she casts a big shadow.”

A characteristic Rhonda’s parents share is their intense focus. She says, “They keep their eye on the prize,” despite whatever rumors swirl around, and don’t live in the past.

“My father is 86. He plays tennis every day. He’s vegan,” says Ross, who is as comfortable with her own accomplishments as those of her legendary Motown-defining parents.

Asked to share a Motown moment from her childhood, Ross relates a post-Motown story about when Michael Jackson went on vacation with her family in Florida, but mostly remained in his room.

“I have this strong memory of him cracking his door open, peeking out with those beautiful eyes of his,” says Ross, telling her he can’t see anybody for the time being.

She adds, “I found out that was when he was writing ‘Thriller.’”

IF YOU GO
Diana Ross
In The Name of Love Tour with Rhonda Ross
Where: SHN Orpheum Theatre: 1192 Market St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. July 12
Tickets: $71 to $297
Contact: (888) 746-1799, www.shnsf.com
Note: The show also is at 7:30 p.m. July 10 at the Mountain Winery in Saratoga.


Berry Gordy Jr.In Case You Didn’t KnowjazzMotownPop MusicRhonda Ross. Diana RossRodney Kendrick

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