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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Rhonda Begos, Milwaukee’s Busiest Singer

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  Rhonda Begos keeps a full schedule, typically performing several times a week, but Summerfest is her true busy season. With each successive year, the singer has secured more and more bookings at Milwaukee’s signature music festival, and this year will be her most active yet. She’ll be performing at least nine times, doing two gigs with her R&B band, Midnight Groove, and four with the kid-themed group EROCK, in addition to appearing at a Chick Singer Night showcase, guesting with the horn group Cold Sweat and singing the national anthem with Summerfest’s Opening Ceremonies Band.

  Begos usually juggles her performance schedule with her full-time job, but during Summerfest she’s learned better than to even try. “Now I go on vacation for the entire festival,” she says. “One year I made the mistake of not doing that, and it was a bad, bad choice.”

  In addition to her dual careers, Begos has a husband and a 6-year-old son, and she concedes that she occasionally feels overbooked. A longtime diabetic, she also has her health to consider.

  “My parents yell at me a lot about burning the candle at both ends,” Begos says, “but it’s just very hard for me to say no to a gig. Sometimes it takes me three days to think an offer over. I usually only turn them down when I have a family commitment.”

  Begos has also made something of a career—albeit a nonpaying one—of singing the national anthem at Milwaukee sports events. This year she’s booked to sing the anthem more than 40 times, including at this Friday’s Brewers/Twins game. In particular, she’s become a go-to anthem singer for games against visiting Canadian teams, since she performs the Canadian anthem in both English and French.

  “I learned it in high school,” Begos recalls. “I even remember asking my choir teacher, ‘Why are we learning this song in French? We’re never going to know this.’ I was really wrong about that one.”

  Singing in stadiums and arenas has raised her profile—as did her 2005 performance on “Late Night with Conan O’Brien,” when she sang backup for her college roommate Susan Tedeschi—but more than anything, Begos credits her increasingly bustling music career to her sobriety. She quit drinking cold turkey in 2004 when, after a night of drinking, she passed out and suffered multiple seizures when her blood-sugar level dropped. She might not have survived had her son not woken her up.

  Recognizing her problem, Begos canceled all of her gigs for the following months and committed herself to quitting, enduring three onerous months of withdrawal.

  “Anybody who’s ever gone through this knows that those first 90 days are the worst, but I got through them,” Begos says. “I know there are other musicians out there who are suffering from addiction, and they should know that it is possible to just walk away from it.”