The ‘Queen of Bluegrass’ Joins the Opry
Rhonda Vincent will be inducted as the Opry’s newest member on February 6, 2021, after postponing her induction for nearly a year due to COVID-19… and she knows about belonging to a country music family.
Rhonda Vincent started singing at age 3, and, by age 5, she was up on stage, performing as part of her family’s musical group, the Sally Mountain Show. The woman the Wall Street Journal calls the “new queen of bluegrass” even has blood ties at the Opry: She’s the sister of Dailey and Vincent’s Darrin Vincent, who joined the cast in 2017.
Now part of the Opry family herself, the pride of Kirksville, Missouri, is one of the most-awarded figures in bluegrass, winning the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Female Vocalist of the Year seven times in a row. Opry membership fulfills a lifelong dream for Vincent. For the Opry, bringing her into the family moves forward a fabled bluegrass lineage that runs from Bill Monroe and Flatt & Scruggs to the Osborne Brothers and Jim and Jesse McReynolds to Alison Krauss, Del McCoury, and, now, Rhonda Vincent herself.
Rhonda’s earliest Opry memories.
“I don’t think there’s any way to express to someone how the Opry has been part of my life all my life,” Rhonda says. She has fond memories of her father getting up while it was still dark in northeastern Missouri and tuning into WSM from Nashville, then eating potato chips and listening to the Opry deep into the night. “After about 6:30 in the morning, it was all static,” she says. “But it magically came back every evening.”
A friendly stranger gave Rhonda her first view of the Opry stage.
A family as deeply connected to country music as the Vincents had to make the pilgrimage to its birthplace, and the kindness of a stranger made young Rhonda’s first visit to Nashville and the Opry even more memorable. Noticing that her father walked with a cane, a fellow audience member offered to hoist the tired child so she could have a better view. Rhonda remembers seeing the legendary banjo player and comedian Stringbean that night, but, mostly, she says, “I remember that gentleman putting me on his shoulders
One of Rhonda’s early bosses was a real gem.
When Rhonda competed on The Nashville Network’s You Can Be a Star in 1985, the show’s host — and Grand Ole Opry legend — Jim Ed Brown hired her to sing in his backing band, The Gems.
“My first appearance with him was on the Opry,” she recalls. “He hosted the segment, sang one song, and introduced the next artist. Then he came over to me — I’m in Heaven — and says, ‘You’re going to do the next song. What are you going to do?’ I nearly melted into the floor!
Why Rhonda believes the show must go on.
Rhonda made her Opry debut when she was a child, as a member of her family’s bluegrass group, the Sally Mountain Show. She still lives by an important lesson that she learned back then — “Always do your best and play your best — you never know who’s listening!”
The Sally Mountain Show would play five days a week in Branson, Missouri, then travel to regional bluegrass festivals on the weekend. One day found them in a torrential rainstorm, and the kids begged their father not to make them play in the downpour.
Dad knew better, telling them, “They’re paying us to play, and we’re going to play.”
The next week, the family got a call from Hal Durham, the Opry’s general manager at the time, inviting the Sally Mountain Show to come to Nashville and play the Opry. It turned out that while the Vincent family had been playing in the rain, the Durham family had been sitting around the corner listening!
Well, hello, Dolly!
Over the years, Rhonda has recorded and performed with many artists who are now her fellow Grand Ole Opry members — Alan Jackson, Alison Krauss, the late Joe Diffie, Lorrie Morgan, Martina McBride, and Pam Tillis among them — but there’s something special about working with the legendary Dolly Parton. Rhonda has sung harmony on several of Dolly’s albums and performed with her on stage, as well. But the bond between these two Opry stars goes deeper than music. Once, after being hospitalized with a life-threatening illness, Rhonda returned to her house to find Dolly there, saying that she needed to see for herself that Rhonda was okay.
“It’s very overwhelming to come home and see Dolly Parton standing in your living room!” she says.
Rhonda has a collection of souvenirs from the Opry Gift Shop.
When Rhonda began guesting on the Opry as a solo artist, she wanted a souvenir to commemorate the occasion. So she went to the Opry Gift Shop and bought a glass with the Opry emblem on it. She did the same thing the next time she performed on the Opry stage, and the next, and the next. Soon, she had enough glasses for a 12-piece serving set – and her collection kept growing.
“The cabinet got full,” she says. Then, one time, she went back — and the gift shop had stopped selling the glasses! So she started collecting Opry coffee mugs.
The night Jeannie Seely invited Rhonda to join the family was her 215th Opry appearance. “Eventually,” she says, “I played enough times that I didn’t feel like I had to buy a token in case I never played there again.”
As part of the cast, Rhonda will receive a bronze-and-oak Opry Member Award, designed by renowned sculptor Bill Rains — a better way to memorialize the historic moment than any glass or mug could ever be!
Rhonda Vincent and Jeannie Seely — a serious friendship.
Jeannie Seely’s surprise invitation for Rhonda to become an Opry member is a new milestone in a years-long friendship that has grown closer since Rhonda turned Jeannie’s song “Like I Could” — a song Rhonda debuted on the Opry stage — into a chart-topping bluegrass hit in 2019. “The song has become a focal point for us,” Rhonda says.
Jeannie first sang “Like I Could,” which she wrote with Erin Enderlin and Bobby Tomberlin, for Rhonda as the two were sharing a limousine ride.
“When I told her I loved the song and wanted to record it, she said to me the same thing I said to her when she invited me to join the Opry — ‘Are you serious?!’”
Opry friends become Opry family.
Rhonda sang with Gene Watson on the Opry before she ever met him.
Rhonda’s longtime friend Gene Watson was one of the first people to call with congratulations after she received her invitation to join the Opry. “Mark Wills was the first phone call, then Diamond Rio’s Dana Williams, then Gene,” she says. “He told me, ‘You didn’t let me be the newest member for very long!’”
In 2007, Rhonda and Gene recorded a version of Buck Owens’ classic hit “Together Again” for one of Gene’s albums, but they cut their vocal parts at different times. They were set to sing their duet live for the first time on the televised portion of the Opry, but a late flight for Rhonda meant they couldn’t rehearse beforehand.
“I walked in the stage door, headed straight to the Opry Circle, and started singing with Gene before we ever said hello,” she says.
The two singers make such magic together that they went on to record an entire album of duets called Your Money and My Good Looks. So don’t be surprised if you see them sharing the Opry stage many times in the future.
Rhonda’s mom missed her invitation moment.
Rhonda’s Opry invitation was such a secret that even immediate family members didn’t know it was in the works. That’s why Rhonda’s mother was onstage at a jam session in Iowa when Opry staff tried to reach her to let her know what was happening so she could tune in. She didn’t recognize the number of the incoming call and, figuring it was a telemarketer, hit decline. She did the same thing when one of Rhonda’s daughters called immediately afterward. Rhonda plans to have her mother with her at her induction, of course, but says, “Next time, mom, please answer your phone!”
Now, Rhonda’s living the dream!
“It’s still hard to believe that I’m a member with all these people that I used to listen to through the static,” Rhonda says. “I have their numbers! I can call them! I’ve admired them so much for so long. It’s just amazing.”
See Rhonda’s Induction live on Circle.