Say the name “Nikki Ross,” and most Cool Tea Cups people will get the Jesus-stank face and shake their heads. Their positive, albeit odd-looking response will probably be due to the musical ability– vocal and on keys– that Nikki has displayed as a guest vocalist in countless settings across the nation.
Over the past several years, Nikki Ross has become widely known as one of Kirk Franklin’s singers, but she’s been doing “music” her whole life. She generally showcases her voice to jaw-dropped audiences who marvel at her musical ear and limitless range.
Our chit-chat has been a long time coming, but we finally connected recently and caught up on all that she’s doing. In this interview, Nikki shares how she got started, how it’s been going, and what she’s got planned for the future (and yes, it includes the looooong-awaited solo album!).
Without further delay, I give you the incomparable Nikki Ross…
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EJ: Hey there! How are ya?
NR: Heyyyy! I’m great!
EJ: It’s great to catch up with you. Thanks for taking a minute to chat with me.
NR: No problem!
EJ: I wanna talk, first, about how you got your start in music. I’m sure you’ve been singing all of your life, but when did it become more than a church thing and more of a music business thing?
NR: It became a career when I started to sing with Ricky Dillard and his choir, New G. Ricky came to Houston and did a workshop at my home church, St. Stephens Baptist Church. My brother was helping me with my business, and helping me to network, and he introduced me to Ricky.
That allowed me to sing a song at the workshop’s concert and from there, it took off.
NR: And I had been going to different conventions, like the COGIC Convocation, and I knew that music is what I wanted to do– that’s where my passion was. It didn’t matter to me if I was singing lead, doing background or playing. I just knew that music was my heart.
So, that’s where it all started. And I had sung in groups before Ricky, like with Gary Mayes’ group. At the time, we were called Friends In Christ.
NR: *laughing* Nobody knows that, but that was like way back in the day. We were like “FIC!”
NR: *laughing* Yeah, we were hard on it, too. Everybody in our group could just SING and hold their own. It reminds me, a little bit, of singing with Kirk [Franklin] now, because everybody who steps to the mic can literally hold their own. That’s how it was…
Just to name a few of the singers– it was Cheryl Fortune, Nakitta Clegg, my godbrother Bryan Nelson, who’s now the pastor of a church here called Jericho City, Cedric Ballard… everybody could just hold their own.
So when Ricky came and he heard me, he said “okay, I want you to sing with my choir.”
EJ: Even though you didn’t live in Chicago?
NR: Yeah! I would fly there. It was a little bit of a concern, too, because I wasn’t from Chicago. Everybody who was a member at the time, before it became nationwide, was from Chicago.
NR: So, here I am, this Houstonian, flying in to meet up with them so I can sing with them… and it took a little time. You know how it is when a new baby comes to the family and people try to feel you out. But once I started participating and being a part of it, the love just started showing. I really took it as something great.
So, that’s how I got started on a national level.
NR: Well, Myron Butler and I are really good friends. We were friends even before God’s Property. He made mention of me to Kirk— and Kirk trusts his musical opinion a lot. He told Kirk about me and Kirk mentioned me to Isaac Carree as someone he was considering… Isaac seconded what Myron said… and that kinda sealed the deal.
NR: Mmm-hmm… so, it was basically from me doing stuff and being around. Myron knew what I was capable of, and his recommendation meant a lot. I thank him to this day!
EJ: What has it been like with Kirk? I know I interviewed Candy West a while ago and she said it’s good, but you have to understand that it’s also business, so you don’t catch feelings if he doesn’t call on you. And Candy vouched for his character in a big way.
NR: You know… and I’ve been in situations like that. Sometimes, he’s not able to take everybody and that’s cool. When he can, he does. And we know what it is. There are never any hard feelings about that.
This year makes 5 years of me working with him and I’ve been working really strong with him… it’s been a blessing because this opportunity came at a time in my life when I was almost about to give up on music.
NR: Yeah. *laughing*
NR: I know it may sound cliche, but as a person who’s in the ministry of music, it happens to the best of us. We get to a point where we feel like we don’t have anything else to offer. And I had a couple of other things going on with me, personally, and I was just ready to kinda give up the whole thing.
But when I got that phone call, I felt like it was God, Himself, opening my eyes to see that He had and has a lot more that He wants to do with me.
EJ: Absolutely, He does. That’s great. I want to talk to you about the effect that you have on people. If anyone goes to YouTube, they can type “Nikki Ross,” and they may see you playing keys, doing riffs–cuz you have a great ear– and a lot of times, you can barely hear Nikki Ross singing over the folks in the audience falling out, like “OH MY GOD!!!” and “OHHHH JESUS!”
EJ: And I know that some people judge that, saying “they’re more impressed with her tricks than with her anointing.”
EJ: What do you say about that, as a person who is able to do the tricks? Are you throwing them out there to get a response? Are you frustrated by people who give that type of response?
NR: I am. I am because, you know what, they honestly don’t understand where it came from.
NR: Sometimes, I’ll even stop myself. And not that I have to explain what I’m giving to God, because I know of my relationship with Him… what you see out in the open is what I give Him when I’m at home.
It just frustrates me a little bit because they can’t see PAST the gift. And that’s not my M.O. There’s a story behind everything I do, when it comes to me, musically.
EJ: How so?
NR: Well, for example, I trained my ear from the time that I was 7, 8 and 9 years old. Though I was taking lessons, I was too scared to play for myself and I wasn’t really at that level, at that age, anyway. But local churches would ask me to come to sing a solo for their program and, most of the time, the song that I wanted to sing, the musicians wouldn’t know. So, I would have to sing the song a cappella and people would notice that I wasn’t changing keys or falling off the pitch at all.
But it seemed like– and I don’t know how crazy this might make me sound, but I don’t care– it seemed like, as I was singing the song, I would hear a piano in my head. It was like God was playing the song for me while I would sing.
EJ: I believe that. Absolutely. And people who have a musical gift can hear the chords you’re making– you’ll make a different chord with a riff. And it’s not necessarily to dazzle people, it’s to tell people how you’re feeling that chord– it’s not just a major chord, it’s a major 7th.
EJ: I think people get so excited by what you’re able to do– and we see it with Kim Burrell and Karen Clark Sheard, too– it’s like… you all just feel the music that way, it’s not FOR the audience, necessarily.
NR: Yeah, it’s just how I feel it. It’s not to impress anybody or “wow” anybody… it’s just where we came from. Even when you listen to Ella Fitzgerald— a lot of people didn’t understand what she was doing, but it’s what she felt.
EJ: Mm-hmm… but uhh… you DO know that “how you feel it” is killin’ the people, right?
EJ: I’m just sayin’… you can go ahead and say it. It doesn’t have to be the primary reason, but you DO know that, soo…
NR: *laughing* Well, I guess I can produce a little ear candy every now and then. Y’know. *laughs*
EJ: *laughing* Alright!
NR: But it’s nothing that I brag on because just like I can give it today, I can lose it tomorrow. I wouldn’t want that to happen. I honor and cherish God for even thinking of me to give me something of this capacity, you know?
To be able to hear like I hear and do the things I’ve been allowed to do– I’m a steward over my gift. It’s not mine to own, it’s His.
EJ: Sure. Listen, everyone wants to know… when are you stepping out as a solo artist?
NR: *exhales* I’m doing it SOON!
EJ: Everyone wants to know! I asked my wife to help me with my questions and I said “babe, what do I need to ask Nikki Ross?” She said “just ask her when she’s doing a SOLO ALBUM!”
EJ: Like, I don’t have to ask you NOTHIN’ ELSE.
NR: I am working on it as we speak.
EJ: But how? Like, working HOW… working like it’ll be done by the end of this year, or like “check me in 2011”?
NR: Yeah, it’s gonna be done this year. We’re looking at like, late summer/early fall.
EJ: Oh, for real?!
EJ: Who are you working with?
NR: *pauses* I can’t say right now! *laughing*
EJ: Ok, ok. I understand.
NR: I can’t, but I’ll tell you what– as soon as everything is a “go,” I’ll let you know.
EJ: Please do. The people need to know. I’ve just been going to YouTube, typin’ in “Nikki Ross Total Praise” and there’s a clip from a COGIC Convocation that has been holding me until the solo project comes.
NR: Ohhhh! *laughing* You won’t have to wait much longer, I promise. This is the year.
EJ: This is the year! Okay. Well, lemme ask you… You’ve done a lot of guest vocal spots– from James Fortune & FIYA, Gary Mayes, Rodnie Bryant, Ricky Dillard… Do you ever fear, as you get ready to go the solo route, that people won’t receive you as a solo artist? Like, “she’s great for a guest spot, but not a whole album”?
NR: I don’t really think that. I think that what God has allowed me to do has been nothing but teasers. People keep asking “where’s your album,” and they’ve been saying that for over 7 years. What I thought was gonna happen– I thought they would just stop asking. *laughing* But nobody has!
NR: So, I’m excited to know that there are people out there that are waiting on a record from me. I’ve had people to say “you did spots on everybody else’s record– we want a whole record of just you.” I’m like “are you SERIOUS?!”
I think, once this record comes out, people will appreciate it. I’m not going just one way. I will have, like… maybe a medley with me just sitting at the keyboard, singing and playing. I am gonna do that because that’s pretty much where I started. It’s how everyone got to know who I was– this red-head chick on the keys. *laughing*
EJ: *laughs* Right. That’s great.
NR: Yeah, I don’t think people just want guest spots from me. I don’t think I’ve been dwindled to that.
EJ: Well, how do you want to be received? What do you want people to know about Nikki Ross, the solo artist?
NR: I just want them to know that, first of all, I love God. And I’m just real. I don’t try to preach– that’s not my area. *laughing*
NR: If there’s something that God wants me to say, it’ll come out. But for now, I just believe that God made me a psalmist and that’s what I wanna be– that’s my heart, it’s my passion… to deliver encouragement through music. I just want to be one of the ones who encourages, who expresses the love of God, and who won’t pinpoint sin.
What I’ve learned is that everyone who’s pinpointing sin, their sin is always the one to come out eventually. That’s not my story because I have flaws, too. I’m not gonna judge you for yours.
EJ: Amen. Well, I’m excited for what’s comin’! I’m so glad I got the chance to catch up with you.
NR: I’m glad, too! I really am. And I appreciate it.
EJ: It’s my pleasure. I appreciate you, too, and thanks for chatting with me.
NR: Oh, you’re welcome.
EJ: We’ll talk soon.
NR: Okay. Bye!
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And there you have it! Will you be buying Nikki’s solo project???
Now, as you know, I always try to embed a lil’ video of the person I just interviewed, just to… y’know… make it official. LOL
I nearly LOST MY EVERLOVIN’ MIND when I found this video clip and I decided “THAT’S the one.”
It’s from a date that Kirk Franklin did in Sweden, featuring a Swedish vocalist named Samuel Ljungblahd singing “Don’t Cry.” Kirk has Nikki Ross sing WITH him and the result is simply INCREDIBLE. Plus, the sentiment of “Don’t Cry” is PERFECT for Easter/Resurrection Weekend! Thank ya, Holy Ghost! LOL
Check it out–
Whatd’ya think of the interview??? And whatd’ya think of the video?!