Kendra Ross is an award-winning vocalist, composer, arranger, recording artist, organizer, and scholar. Passionate about the nexus between arts advocacy and social justice, Kendra Ross is as comfortable on the stage as she is with engaging her community through the arts.
A Youngstown, Ohio native raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Kendra moved to New York City to attend the prestigious New York University, where she earned a Bachelor’s degree in Music Business and Technology. This catalytic journey started her mutual love affair with New York City, which became a fertile ground for her immeasurable gifts to emerge as an artist, music business executive, scholar, and activist.
Born to a family of preachers, musicians, and singers, ministering in word, deed and song is in Kendra’s DNA. She grew up singing in church all the while engaging her maternal grandfather, a revered pastor and civil rights activist in Youngstown, about issues of the day and the role of the church in social justice movements. Kendra’s love for music was further cultivated early on with an exceptional education in musical theater at the heart of Pittsburgh’s incredible artistic legacy and community, including performing with Pittsburgh’s Civic Light Opera while still a teenager. An accomplished theatre performer, she was later featured in a National Tour of the Broadway smash hit, Smokey Joe’s Café starring Rita Coolidge and Gary “U.S.” Bonds, at Carnegie Hall with Broadway star Linda Eder, and on NBC’s Today Show with the Broadway Gospel Choir.
As a young artist, Kendra’s trajectory as a music business professional is unparalleled. After gaining invaluable experience in various administrative and creative roles at some of the most influential companies in the entertainment business, including, Columbia Records, Virgin Records, Motown Records, Sean “Puffy” Combs’ Daddy’s House Recording Studio, and Levine Communications, to name a few, most recently Kendra has held progressively responsible positions with the ubiquitous, Universal Music Group. In addition to being a renowned recording artist, Kendra is widely acknowledged as a seasoned and insightful music business executive and sought after facilitator having developed workshops aimed at providing independent artists with a guide to navigating the music business. Kendra’s story is unique because the immense talent she displays in the recording studio and on stage compliments her skills in the corporate entertainment boardroom.
Kendra, who also sites Donnie Hathaway, Joni Mitchell, Janet Jackson, Mary J. Blige, and British psychedelic rock-soul artist Lewis Taylor as some of her greatest musical influences, celebrated the release of her debut album titled, New Voice, in 2007 to excellent reviews in both the United States and around the world. Later that year, she was voted New Artist of the Year by the readers of Soultracks.com.
In addition to her solo work, Kendra has emerged as a sought after session vocalist having lent her talents to several major label recordings including, “Won’t You Stay” (which she co-wrote) and the Kanye West-produced hit “Get By”, both from acclaimed hip-hop recording artist Talib Kweli’s gold-selling album, Quality. Her songwriting skills are also featured on Kweli’s 2nd solo LP, The Beautiful Struggle on a track featuring Faith Evans called “We Know”. She is a featured vocalist on Q: Soul Bossa Nostra released by Quincy Jones in 2010. In 2011 she was a featured vocalist and songwriter on Gutter Rainbows released by Kweli as well as on Habits of the Heart/Idle Warship, a duet project released by Kweli and cult favorite, Res. Kweli wrote of the gifted recording artist in the liner notes of Quality: “Kendra’s talented, beautiful, and one of a kind.”
Kendra is currently featured as a co-writer and artist on “Which Side Are You On” released in 2015 by Kweli and noted hip-hop artist and scholar, 9th Wonder for their collaboration entitled, INDIE 500. The single poses the question, “which side are you on?” in response to the senseless slaughter of lives often not valued in our culture. The song’s hook is the one of the latest interventions by the artist who earned a Master’s degree in Cultural Anthropology from The New School for Social Research and who self identifies as a culture worker charged with using her art to engage community.
Even though she is busy at work recording and writing music, it should come as no surprise that Kendra is also currently a doctoral candidate in Community Engagement at Point Park University in Pittsburgh as she is truly dedicated to wrestling with how best to develop tools and practices to use art in service of her community. Her current research focus is centered on cultural work and resistance in Pittsburgh's Hill District. Upon completion of her disseration project, Ross plans to resume writing and recording for The Multitude, the highly anticipated follow up to her debut album.
Kendra follows in the footsteps of a long line of black feminist scholars/activists who were both artists and cultural anthropologists, and cites Zora Neale Hurston and Katherine Dunham in particular as two of her greatest overall influences. Like these luminaries before her, Kendra creates art works that are deeply rooted in the lived experiences of everyday people from the various communities that she calls home. Like these luminaries before her, Kendra’s light is a compelling and bright force born to shine.