By Laurie Morrisey
“Music is life!” That is the simple statement that headlines Portland’s musical diva LaRhonda Steele’s website. When I read that it resonated through me and made me pause. Watching LaRhonda perform only makes this hit home even more.
“I knew I wanted to be a singer ever since I was in high school. I found that my peers accepted me when they heard me sing and when I sang in church I felt so connected to God. I really wanted to share that good feeling,” LaRhonda said. And that’s exactly what she does every time you hear her sing—she shares that good feeling with all in attendance.
Although she graduated college with a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration and worked in accounting and bookkeeping, the pull of music moved her to a full time singing career.
She began her professional singing career shortly after moving to Portland 20 years ago. LaRhonda was encouraged to audition for the annual MLK celebration organized by Ken Berry. She auditioned over the phone. Her first paying gig was with his band, Time Sound, and soon after that she joined the Norman Sylvester Band.
Her early musical influences came from listening to her mother, Juanita Johnson, who sang with her aunts. “She had this incredibly beautiful smooth tenor voice that we grew up listening to. My grandfather was a preacher, so my mom and her two sisters sang before he preached.” LaRhonda had some training in high school but is mostly self-taught. “I was born into a family of singers.”
“Of course, I love Oleta Adams, Aretha Franklin, Shirley Ceaser, and Angela Windbush. I love old soul music with a funky back beat and a rock edge. I play a mean tambourine,” she said.
She has three CD’s, Artistic Differences, My Soul’s Song and Rock me Baby. “I have another in the works, to be released in 2016, with nine original songs.”
When talking about artists she has worked with she said, “I have had the pleasure of working with my husband Mark Steele, Curtis Salgado, Norman Sylvester, Lloyd Jones, Ken DeRouchie, Obo Addy, Janice Marie Scroggins, Linda Hornbuckle, and most currently, Louis Pain.”
“I work mainly as a solo artist. I have an incredible pool of musicians to call on when the LaRhonda Steele Band gets hired: Mark Steele on keyboards; Brian Foxworth or Tyrone Hendrix on drums; Carl Falls or Ben Jones on bass; and Mike Dolin and Eric Hailstone know my book as well.”
“I currently enjoy the role of choir director for the Portland Interfaith Gospel Choir, a community choir that sings gospel music. I am also music director for Unity in West Linn.”
Anyone who is looking to “feel” the music and is ready to understand “Music is Life,” it’s time to head out and listen to the LaRhonda Steele Band. To find out where you can find her next, visit her website at larhondasteele.com.