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 Music & Entertainment), that releases to stores and on-line 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 Music & Entertainment 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 buses 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 tour bus 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 YouTube 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 Cobbs. “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 VaShawn Mitchell 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-one 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.”