One of the brightest voices on today’s gospel scene belongs to newcomer Ruth La’Ontra. The 21-year old vocal powerhouse is among a cool clique of young female singers such as Tasha Cobbs, Jekaylyn Carr and Alexis Speight who are collectively flexing their girl power and making room for themselves at gospel music’s male-dominated welcome table. Though young in age, La’Ontra is a seasoned veteran who’s experienced her share of heartache and pain but has sung through her tears to deliver a triumphant and inspirational debut CD, “So Good (Tyscot Records),” that releases to stores everywhere November 12, 2013.
La’Ontra’s life has been a rollercoaster of highs and more highs over the last year. She bankrolled her own three song EP, put it up on iTunes and watched the cyber buzz heat up around her soulful vocals and contemporary sound. Then, one of the songs from it, “I’m In Love With A Man,” a love song to God, was featured in the motion picture, “Iniquity.” Her producer Bubby Fann says, “Her voice demands attention. She’s full of energy and causes you to go wherever her voice leads you.”
Between the movie and the EP chatter, an executive from Tyscot Records caught wind of the charismatic singer and called out of the blue to offer her a contract. Now, the soul-stirring song “Count It All Joy,” is receiving radio airplay from coast to coast and laying the foundation for a long and solid career. “Count It All joy’ is a flashback to when songs had substance,” says Torrez Harris, Program Director for WHLH-FM in Jackson, MS. “I literally sing every day of my life,” the bubbly songstress declares. “If I’m not on somebody’s stage singing than I’m at home singing. “ As a kid, her older siblings complained that she sang too much. “They’d always say `can you shut up,’” she laughs. “But, now they see that God was preparing me for this moment and they are proud of me.”
Considering the joy La’Ontra brings to her family, friends and fans; it’s worth noting that she was a miracle baby. “I wasn’t supposed to be here,” she confesses. After her parents, Arvetra and Ruth Jones, had a son (Arvetra Dominc) and daughter (Princess), they felt their family was complete. “My mother had her tubes tied after her second kid,” she explains. “So this prophet named Sylvester Walker came to the church and prophesied that my mom was going to have a baby. Everybody laughed at him because little did he know she had had her tubes tied. But, a few weeks later, she found out that she was pregnant and here I am.”
The North Carolina native’s been singing since the age of two when she discovered the song “Joyful, Joyful” in the movie “Sister Act II.” As children, La’Ontra and her siblings would sing together for fun. “We’d sing like everyday,” she recalls. “We’d get together and do Clark Sisters songs, Kim Burrell songs.” They even had a special song they’d sing when their father came home after a few days away driving a big rig. “Daddy drove trucks for a living and he’d be gone for days so when he came home we’d go outside and sing this song we made up called daddy’s home,” she chuckles. “We had a really fun childhood.”
Aside from his trucking business, La’Ontra’s dad is also a veteran gospel radio announcer who currently broadcasts Sunday mornings on WFSS 91.9 FM in Fayetteville, NC. He’s also been the President of the North Carolina Gospel Announcers Guild for two decades and it made an impact on La’Ontra. “I went to every Guild meeting that my dad had since I’ve been born,” she says. “I went to the classes and educated myself. At home, I did my own marketing and promotions and started doing social cam videos. I knew music was going to be something I was going to do so I used social media to introduce myself to people in the industry instead of sitting back and waiting for someone to do something for me. I used to watch TV and say to myself that could be me or that will be me on the big stages, winning awards.”
After graduating from Pinecrest High School in 2010, La’Ontra was planning to attend Full Sail University, a media arts school in Florida. “I decided to take a break from school and started doing private duty nursing.” She and her sister joined their aunt to launch Companionship Helpers, a firm that aids elderly people and children with disabilities. “When I was a little girl my grandmother Mary Chavis had Alzheimer’s disease,” she explains. “After I got off the bus from school, I’d run over there and take care of her because she lived right next door. She lived to be 92 and I also helped my dad’s grandma who passed away a couple of years ago.”
At the same time, La’Ontra’s dad and manager had reached out to some industry friends to consider producing a three song EP. “He called me and sent me some You tube clips and I watched Ruth’s videos without watching the video,” says Bubby Fann who’s enjoyed gospel radio hits such as “Judah Praise” and “How Great.” He just leaned back, closed his eyes and allowed La’Ontra’s voice speak to him. “I went down there and did a pre-production session and she’s a hard worker and made a lot of input into the process.” They released the EP with “In Love With A Man,” “Count It All Joy” and “Speechless.” Her Facebook friends responded favorably and out of nowhere came an offer to feature “In Love With A Man” in the film,“Iniquity.” Then, a month later, Tyscot called and signed La’Ontra up.
After years of few women on the gospel charts, there are now a handful of ladies making some noise such as Tamela Mann and Tasha Cobb. “It seems like a trend but it’s really just a shift in the church world,” says Fann. “There are a lot of praise and worship leaders – who are not necessarily traditional singers who are rising to the top. We see that with the Vashawn Mitchells and Jonathan Nelson. It’s a trend of what the church is doing now and we’ve got young women worship leaders like Tasha Cobbs, Jekalyn Carr and they are ushering in that new, group oriented, sing- along sound and now Ruth, who is also a worship leader, is being added to the mix.”
Once they got the green light from Tyscot, Fann and La’Ontra hit the studio and worked out enough songs for a full project. “The way me and Bubby work is that I’ll come up with a song in my head and he’s such a great producer I’ll send him all the lyrics and a tape of me singing it the way I want it to go and he’ll send me the music back just like it was in my head,” she says. “The chemistry is really good.”
“She’s got a promising future,” says Fann. “I don’t say that just because I’m her producer. I say it because she’s very serious about God. In our sessions, she was reading scriptures in between takes to get a feel for the song. How many twenty year olds do that? She’s loaded like a pistol ready to be shot off. She can do it all from producing to writing and vocal arrangements because she knows what she wants to hear and I think the world is going to love what she has to offer.”
RUTH LA’ONTRA FUN FACTS
[spoiler title=”Read More” style=”fancy”]Birthdate: July 22, 1992 in Pinehurst, NC.
Favorite color: Red. My birthstone is a ruby but I just fell in love with that color.
Favorite food: Chinese food. I just had some last night. Chicken & Broccoli, Lo Mein, Shrimp & Broccoli, chicken wings, I like a lot of things from the Chinese place.
Favorite TV show: Martin. I have all the re-run things. My cousin has all the DVDs so whenever I go visit her, I watch all the DVDs.
Favorite Movie: I have so many favorite movies. “The Lion King.” I can’t even count how many times I’ve seen that. I can watch “The Lion King,” “Return to Oz,” “The Wizard of Oz,” “The Color Purple,” “Sister Act II,” “Sweeny Todd” – there are a lot of good music parts in that movie – I can watch all of those back to back every day.
Influence: “My cousin Chantay Hill and I used to sing The Safest Place by Karen Clark and Kierra Sheard. I copied Kierra’s parts but Chantay was my first real musical inspiration.”
Message to Young People: “Whatever situation may come your way in life, make sure you are rooted and grounded in The Lord. Don’t try to compromise with the world. Ask God to direct your eyes and keep your eyes on Him. Keep your eyes stayed on Him and don’t let anybody hold you back. When temptations come – whether it’s a girl, boy or something else, know that you are strong and ask God to give you strength to get past it and you don’t have to give in because you are who you are and you are who God has called you to be.”
RUTH LA’ONTRA – SO GOOD
[spoiler title=”Read More About Ruth’s Songs” style=”fancy”]
Inspired by her aunt Lilly Chavis Dortch’s sudden death from an aneurysm, this mid-tempo urban track builds into a crescendo of raw vocal power. “I didn’t know how I was going to cope with her death because she was like a second mother to me,” says La’Ontra. “I spent my senior year of high school dealing with her getting sick and then dying two months later but through it all, God held me in his arms and the way the Lord comforted me left me speechless.”
This rousing song of gratitude opens as an up-tempo contemporary jazz number but segues into an in-your-face rock-flavored song of praise with thumping bass lines, frenzied drumming and La’Ontra’s ferocious vocals creating a lively jam session.
“It’s a personal conversation with God asking how does it feel to know `I love you’ and I give him the response that it `feels so good,’” says La’Ontra of this back-in-the-day styled silky soul ballad.
NEW IN YOU
Bubby Fann wrote this optimistic, urban techno track with Donald “Junebug” Rowell. The self-affirming tune is about personal metamorphosis, discovering one’s talents and then sharing them with the world. “We just wanted to bring a fresh breath of hope,” says Fann. “She’s young and in Christ and this is about reaching for personal success and finding what God has for you.”
COUNT IT ALL JOY
A soul-stirring bridge between Sunday morning church and `70s soul balladry, La’Ontra’s hearty voice dominates this earthquaker of joyful exaltation that finds the vocal dynamo leaping from syrupy low notes to ear-piercing high ones.
IN THIS PLACE
This mid-tempo sing-a-long exudes a warm, breezy mood with La’Ontra showcasing complete vocal control as she peppers the selection with sweet sighs and gentle caresses rather than her usual aerobic vocal work-outs. Even as the song climaxes and she shakes the rafters with her lyrics; it’s still a refined, sophisticated modulation that most singers never perfect until later in their career.
IN LOVE WITH A MAN
A masterful contemporary R&B production with classical piano chording, sweeping strings and a chorus of sopranos serving as the backdrop to this track worthy of a Fantasia or Jazmine Sullivan. However, La’Otra’s passionate reading firmly establishes her as a peer of those two modern day R&B icons on this artful play on words. “It’s about leaving the things of the world behind you and becoming a new creature in Christ,” she explains. “I’m in love with this man but his name is Jesus. I’m not talking about any other man but the man who holds the fate of the world in His hands.”
I GOT THIS
This snappy tune with an infectious jazzy backbeat is another affirmative song of personal motivation. La’Ontra’s sister Princess wrote it. “It’s about being born and raised in church,” La’Ontra says “We’re taught that God has given us power to have victory over anything in the world because God has instilled in us the knowledge and tools to succeed in everything that’s within God’s will. It’s saying: I got this!”
This rocker has an uplifting pop flavor and is the perfect song to lead people to a dance floor – whether it is at the local nightclub or at a Christian lounge. She delivers a measured Top 40-styled performance a la Rhianna or Beyonce. “She’s young and it fits her image,” says producer Fann. “She’s full of life and her riffs fit around today’s generation. She can do traditional music but we wanted to keep everything current. That was the goal. On the next album we may go in a different direction but this is who she is and there’s a need for artists who bring this flavor to the church.”
I’ll TRUST YOU
La’Ontra’s brother Arvetra Dominic wrote this rock-flavored mid-tempo declaration with swirling electric guitars, a male backing chorus and space age sound effects. “We all go through things,” La’Ontra adds. “But, at the end of the day, I’m going to say God I’ll trust you because I know you’ll always be there.”
“This is just a song of encouragement,” La’Ontra says of this hard-hitting urban track. “It’s about not letting anybody tell you what you can’t do. As long as you put your mind to it you can achieve it. Don’t reach for the stars because there’s so much more beyond the skies.”