Rhonda Hanson and her twin brother were the last of ten children born to her parents. Her mother and father have been gone many years and only four siblings remain, but are scattered throughout the South. They make it a point to be together at least once a year. She was "born and raised" in Louisiana and spent most of those years tucked back into the woods on the Black Bayou. Although her family has picked their share of cotton, she and her brother came along late enough in life to "help" by riding on the back of the cotton sack..
As the meter ran out on 1999, bringing the Y2K scare closer, Rhonda wasn't too worried. She grew up with no running water, no indoor plumbing, wood stoves and coal oil lanterns. Electricity brought with it a wringer-type washer that resided in the back yard under a tree. Running water was also a source of excitement. One morning, before she left for school, Rhonda's father told her that when she came home, the family would have running water. She was thrilled and made the announcement all day to anyone at school who would listen. When she got home from school, she dashed into the kitchen and looked around for a shiny new faucet, finding nothing. She demanded of her father, "You said we were getting running water! Where is it?" He responded by opening the screen door and pointing to a crooked hand pump about 100 yards from the house. "We did get running water," he said, handing her a bucket. "Run and go get it!"
About thirty people in a little Pentecostal church watched Rhonda grow up from about age 6 until age 17. The church was an old wooden building with strange, swinging doors that Rhonda called "saloon doors" and wooden theater seats. There was no one there who could play the piano and, when Rhonda was 8 years old, the pastor announced that he wanted the church to begin to pray for God to send someone. Rhonda's mother caught her by the wrist, dragged her forward and sat her firmly down on the altar. "Here, pray for this 'un!" she directed. "She'll play!" The people gathered around her, covered her with Pompeiian Olive Oil and prayed for her. The next day, Rhonda's mother bought an old piano, painted with white house paint, complete with thumbtacks on the hammers for that Southern honky tonk sound. Rhonda sat down at it and, within minutes, was playing it as if she had all her life.
Rhonda's church experience provided some fond memories but, for the most part, was a continuing onslaught of rigid rules and threats. It seemed to her that the preacher was always angry about something. She began going to a neighboring church only to find that this pastor was even angrier. He was always warning her that God was going to send her to hell if she didn't "straighten up." Rhonda recalls a time when she went down to the altar during a moment of soul-searching. She was crying and praying when she felt a hand on her shoulder. She thought the pastor had come to pray for her but, instead, he advised her, "You go home and wash your face and get that mess off your fingernails and then, maybe God can hear you!" She got up and walked out of the church for many years.
Although Rhonda had already written many songs, her music was banished into the distance. She entered into a brief, unsuccessful marriage and on the heels of a divorce, immediately became involved in a new relationship that tried to destroy her. Her second marriage came complete with drugs, alcohol, people who were involved in the occult and crime. During this time, Rhonda was pronounced DOA at a local charity hospital after consuming an astounding amount of liquor and drugs. However, God was merciful to her, even in the midst of her rebellion, and her vitals returned. She survived the ordeal, only to be transferred to the facility's psychiatric ward for observation. Rather than turn to God in the aftermath for deliverance, she hardened her heart even more, continuing to abuse herself, causing miscarriages by taking drugs and living in dread that her Godly mother would find out how deeply she had sunk.
It was following yet another miscarriage that Rhonda was left alone at the hospital. While staring blankly around the room, her eyes came to rest on a Gideon Bible that someone had left laying on her tray. She picked it up, but didn't open it. Instead, she studied the little lamp in the corner that the Gideons have used as their logo for years. She remembered that same lamp on the cover of her little New Testament that she was given in the second grade. Something deep inside Rhonda began to thaw and she laid in the bed and cried, hanging onto the Bible like a life preserver. It was then that Rhonda surrendered her heart to Jesus and let go of the bitterness she had been carrying toward God and the church.
Today, Rhonda has been walking with the God she knows as "Father" for many years. She continues to write the music He gives her and lives a quiet life in middle Tennessee. She has spent time in street ministry, has served on the staff of what is now known as Mercy Ministries of America, a home for unwed mothers and troubled girls and shares intimate friendships with many of Nashville's singers and songwriters. The Christian music industry has always been baffled by Rhonda's music, not quite knowing where to pigeon-hole her. She is a strange mix of rock, blues, country, gospel, etc., not really conforming to any particular genre but managing to appeal to fans across the board. Her musical influences range from Mark Heard and Keith Green (to whom she is most often compared) to secular artists that many Christians may find offensive but who, in Rhonda's opinion, carry deposits in them that were intended for God all along. She doesn't apologize for making room for all kinds of music. "Music has a life and soul all its own," Rhonda says. "It's a living, breathing thing, as alive as any person. Or, at least, it should be."
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