Daughter Of Motown Stars To Detroit Students: Find Your Beat

The daughter of Motown Records founder Berry Gordy and one of its biggest stars, Diana Ross, told young Detroiters they should learn about their city’s rich artistic legacy – then forge their own path with a new beat.

Rhonda Ross Kendrick told a group of musically inclined high school students Thursday she felt pressure to “replicate” her parents’ success, but the singer says “I’m doing me” and encouraged them to follow suit.

Photo: Jeff Karoub/AP
Speaking to students in Detroit during the annual “Motown EDU” summer camp.

“When I left college, the industry … saw Diana Ross and Berry Gordy’s daughter and said, ‘We could put her in a mold and have her copy all the things her parents already did,’“ Ross Kendrick, 44, told attendees of the Motown EDU Summer Camp, which aims to encourage budding artists and entrepreneurs in the town where the “Motown Sound” was born.

“They came to me and gave me that idea and I thought, ‘Oh that doesn’t sound right to me … it doesn’t feel authentic to me,’ so I turned it down,” she added. “I’m really glad I did. For the next 20 years I wrote my songs, I performed but I wasn’t famous. But …it allowed me time to build up exactly who I am and what I wanted to be as an artist.”

Ross Kendrick, a songwriter and performer who favors jazz but also feels at home in R&B, funk and other genres, said her parents might be icons today but it’s important to remember they broke societal and racial molds as the country grappled with civil rights.

“They marched to their own beat,” she said. “(Gordy) decided he wanted music for everybody and he had to figure out how to make that happen and how to make that work despite the fact that society was saying we don’t do it that way.”

Ross Kendrick, who has been opening for her mother on tour, relished the chance to share her story and family history for the third time with participants of the program. Just as she knows some people want her to emulate her parents, she understands that some young Detroiters might be similarly challenged to mimic “the greatness of the 1960s.” They should, she said, find “their own way to it.”

“Motown, as it is and as it was, will not be replicated,” she said. “You can create your own business, your own record company. But it will be its own thing.”

Ryan Solomoe, 16, said she appreciated hearing Ross Kendrick’s story, particularly the obstacles she had to overcome to find her calling. The trumpet playing junior at Detroit’s Cass Technical High School hopes one day to play alongside famous jazz and R&B musicians and be an ambassador for Motown – the sound and the city.

“I want my music to touch not only the older generation but people from my generation and younger generations,” Solomoe said. “Just how Motown touched everyone, I want that same feeling.”

Motown EDU is presented by the Motown Museum, which occupies the former space of the record company’s original headquarters and studio where Ross and the Supremes, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye and many others recorded global hits from the late 1950s to the early ‘70s before decamping to Southern California.