A Face In The Crowd 

When Ronda Landers and Jonda Valentine opened the Lipstick Lounge on East Nashville’s Woodland Street 11 months ago, they had no idea what a success it would be. The young lounge—don’t call it a bar; it’s supposed to feel more like home—has drawn rave reviews from Nash-villians of all sorts, shapes, sizes and persuasions. It’s commonly regarded as a lesbian hangout—and, in fact, it is—but it should be noted that the 45-year-old twin sisters object vehemently to this label. Instead, they tout the wide-ranging appeal of their nightspot. “We wanted a lounge that would represent the diversity of East Nashville,” Ronda says. “Everyone is welcome in this lounge—we’re not there to condemn anybody.” But Ronda and Jonda, as they’re known around town, are more than club owners; they’re a dynamic vocal duo who perform every Friday night with energy only sisters could generate. They sing blues, funk and gospel—along with a few surprises—backed up by a well-credentialed local band. The songstresses’ roots, however, lie in the church. “We’re preacher’s kids, so we’ve sung all our lives,” Ronda says, noting that, along with their brother, they joined a mass gospel choir and were its only white faces. “That’s where we learned our soul,” Jonda says. And learn it they did. Throughout the ’80s, they recorded gospel music, toured as backup singers for Ronnie Milsap and worked in the studio with the likes of Dolly Parton. After getting out of the music business in the early ’90s, Ronda went to nursing school and Jonda finished her degree at Belmont and became a portrait artist. (“She basically wanted to get in a field where she could sit on her ass,” Ronda jokes.) Then, in 2002, the duo opened the lounge. It’s not that they reentered the entertainment business. They found themselves once again in a church of sorts. “Churches and bars both offer fellowship and acceptance,” Jonda says. Only, their church offers drinks and a “kick-ass band,” and their bar offers gospel music and fellowship.

—By John Spragens

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