Entertainer Rhonda was 'an incredible talent'
By Wayne Harada
Advertiser Entertainment Writer
By Wayne Harada
Rhonda, the single-monikered songbird from New Zealand with the booming soprano voice and a radiant smile, died Thursday of an apparent heart attack compounded by a flu-related virus. She was 55.
"She was a wonderful entertainer, working for me at the Ko Olina Chapel," said the Rev. Beverly Stone, a close friend. "She was entertainer of the year four years in a row in New Zealand, and she was an incredible talent."
When Rhonda sang at church, Stone said, she thrilled the worshippers.
"When she did 'The Lord's Prayer,' she knocked the roof off," Stone said.
Rhonda had been battling flu- or coldlike symptoms over the past several weeks, Stone said.
She died at her 'Aiea Heights home.
Rhonda gained initial fame in Honolulu when she made her debut at the Monarch Room of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel in 1989. She was one of a parade of Down Under singers at the time — including John Rowles, Frankie Stevens and Howard Morrison — who migrated to the Islands from New Zealand to launch performing careers.
At the Monarch Room, Rhonda performed a variety of tunes in a diva's style, from "Ave Maria" to "This Is My Life," from "Am What I Am" to "Now Is the Hour," over the course of a memorable three-week engagement.
She was known for an expansive repertoire that included Maori, Samoan and other Polynesian songs, as well as Broadway favorites and pop standards.
In her native New Zealand, she sang in "La Boheme" with the New Zealand Opera Company and was promptly compared to Kiri Te Kawana, New Zealand's acclaimed operatic star.
She also sang two years ago at the Esprit at the Sheraton Waikiki, in a short-lived show produced by Jack Cione and Yemun Chung.
"She had a great voice," Cione said.
Before that, she was the star of an engagement at the Dole Cannery Ballroom at Iwilei.
Her maiden name was Rhonda Bryers; her father was Ron Bryers, a Maori rugby star. She was born in a New Zealand town called Taumarunui.
Survivors include two sons, Scott, 31, and John, 20, with first husband Josh Ruddock.
Her Island friends are planning a celebration of her life; arrangements are pending. Her remains likely will be returned to New Zealand, Stone said.
Reach Wayne Harada at firstname.lastname@example.org.