Rhonda Gouge-Her Passion Is Serving God Through Music
By Tim Gardner
The far Northern part of Western North Carolina that the Blue Ridge Christian News serves has a rich musical history that includes many talented musicians, singers, and contributors in other capacities. One such performer who has made music in this region special and helps keep its history alive and going strong is Rhonda Gouge.
The abilities God grants are designed specifically for each person. They are unique, helping to define one’s demeanor. Concerning musical talents, Rhonda is a lady who has been blessed with many gifts. She’s highly- accomplished in the profession and can play approximately a dozen instruments. Rhonda produces some outstanding guitar, banjo, fiddle, mandolin, piano, dobro, dulcimer, and autoharp music in Southern Gospel and Bluegrass genres. But her talent doesn’t stop there. Rhonda also has an endearing singing voice.
Born in McDowell County in 1955, Rhonda has lived most of her life in Mitchell County. She recalled: “I was exposed to music through my mother, Sena Mae, who sang in the Gospel Melody Quartet, and her family.” Rhonda’s mother was a shape-note singer and could play piano by ear. Her brothers and sisters were also musical. Rhonda became fascinated with the guitar while watching Arthur Smith and Fred Kirby perform on the Arthur Smith Show from WBTV in Charlotte, the only television channel her family’s antenna would receive when she was growing up.
At an early age, Rhonda asked for a rhythm guitar for Christmas, but her mother wanted Rhonda to first learn to play the piano. Eventually, her father, Everett, bought Rhonda a Roy Rogers guitar, which broke, and she focused on playing piano for a few years. She said the lessons helped her learn about musical keys and timing. Rhonda remained fascinated with a guitar, and in 1967 her father took her to the Western Auto store in Marion and bought her a guitar for Christmas. He told her if she learned to play it, he would buy her another musical instrument the next year, a promise he kept. An instructional pamphlet that accompanied the first guitar helped Rhonda figure out how to tune the instrument and play a couple of chords.
Rhonda also spent many days visiting “Red” Wilson, an Avery County native, expert fiddler, and North Carolina Folk Heritage Award recipient. Rhonda played guitar accompaniment to his old-time fiddle tunes. Red’s group, the Toe River Valley Boys, was one of her favorite Bluegrass bands. “When I first got a guitar and could put two or three chords together, I would go to Red’s house. He would take his old fiddle down and play his old-time tunes. I would play guitar with him. And he would always say, ‘That’s just wonderful.’ And he would tell me, ‘You’re going to be a fine musician.’ He was so very encouraging and good to me.”
Rhonda also began playing bass guitar in her church at age twelve, and a neighbor bought her a banjo for her eighteenth birthday. She learned to play it and also the mandolin. Besides learning to play the previously listed musical instruments, Rhonda also learned and became deft playing lead, electric, and steel guitars.
Rhonda’s interest in music kept growing, and others took notice. Friends started asking her for music lessons, and thus her teaching career was born. Rhonda worked for years on factory lines and for Red Wilson in a recording studio he owned. But Rhonda eventually started her own music studio (The Picking Parlor) in the Ledger Community of Mitchell County and teaches music. She keeps a regular waiting list for students interested in guitar, mandolin, banjo, bass, fiddle, and/or learning the rudiments of singing—shaped notes, harmony, blending, and its other technical aspects. She earned a master’s degree in Appalachian Studies, with a concentration in music and religion, and has become an acclaimed musical instructor.
Rhonda also has sung in and played musical instruments for several Southern Gospel groups–the Rebels Creek Quartet, Principles, and two she formed, the Bear Creek Ambassadors and Rhonda Gouge and Keeping Time. She has recorded on albums, 8-Tracks, cassettes, and/or compact discs with most of the singing groups in which she has traveled as well as a square dance album with Red Wilson in 1979. Additionally, her recording repertoire includes several solo projects of her own, another with Mitchell County resident and noted singer and musician Nathan Stewart and a vast amount of studio session work with other singers and singing groups.
Rhonda has a new recording that will be released this summer and will include various songs. She said it will be dedicated to her home church-Bear Creek Baptist Church in Ledger- and that part of the proceeds from its sales will be given to the church’s Family Life Center.
Ronda currently sings (and of course plays music) at Bear Creek Baptist, often as a soloist and sometimes in a trio with Kathy Khune and Sam McKinney.
Rhonda is available for concerts—as a soloist, as a trio with Kathy Khune and Sam McKinney, with another guitarist, and with some of her music students. To book her in any such musical fashion or for music lessons, call (828) 385-2295; email her (email@example.com); or contact her via her Facebook page.
Rhonda lists the True Gospel Quartet of Barnardsville, NC which consisted of Herman Burleson singing tenor; his wife, Lucille, singing alto and playing piano, S.B. Deaver, singing lead, and Kye English, singing bass for one of her all-time favorite Gospel groups. She said she also especially enjoys the Primitive Quartet from Candler, NC, and the McKameys, who are from Clinton, TN, and retired a couple of years ago.
Rhonda commented: “The True Gospel Quartet sang for many years and was outstanding with very close harmony and blend. Lucille Burleson had the absolute best and most beautiful alto singing voice and she is a very smooth piano player. I was fortunate to sing with Kye in the Principles. He is a great bass singer and the best at performing recitations.
“I also love the Primitives. They are excellent musicians and good singers. I’ve been friends with them for years. I also like the McKameys. They were so sincere and real in their Gospel music work.
“I’ve loved singing and playing musical instruments with every group with which I’ve traveled. All have had good singers and musicians and are good people. I also particularly liked singing with Janie Jarrett in the Rebels Creek Quartet. She is a wonderful singer, musician, and friend and is so much fun to be around.”
Rhonda then concluded: “I’m a blessed person—as much as anyone ever has been and a primary reason why is because of music. It’s my life, my ministry, and my deepest passion. It’s also a powerful way in which I can serve the Lord. I’m thankful for having the opportunities I’ve had in the musical profession and I’m excited about the possibility of experiencing more in the future. I’m as enthused about being active in music as much as I have been at any time during my career.”
In God’s parable of the talents, the point is clear: use the talents He’s given you and they will multiply. Rhonda Gouge continues to use them. And each note she plays sings or teaches others displays her dedication to the music she loves so much.
Tim Gardner is a journalist and a life-long resident of the North Carolina Mountains. His feature stories, columns, and news and sports articles have appeared in various national, regional, local, and specialty publications. Tim has worked as a publicist for Martin Cook and the Inspirations Quartet as well as Associate Features Editor for Singing News magazine. He also served as the project assistant, wrote the foreword to, and named the What A Wonderful Time book, a history of the Inspirations. Additionally, Tim co-wrote the Legend and Legacy book, a history of the Weatherford Quartet.
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