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Ranky Tanky brings celebration of Gullah music, culture to Wilson Center

May 9, 2019

From playful game songs to ecstatic shouts, from heartbreaking spirituals to delicate lullabies, the Charleston- based quintet Ranky Tanky will perform the timeless music of Gullah culture as the final performance in the 2018/2019 season at the Sharon Lynne Wilson Center for the Arts on Friday, May 17, 2019, at 8:00 p.m.

Ranky Tanky (which translates loosely from West African language as “Work It” or “Get Funky”) released their eponymous debut on October 20, 2017, featuring 13 arrangements of Gullah folk songs, with lyrics and melodies ranging from traditional spirituals to children’s rhymes to dance music. By December 2017, the group had been profiled on NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross and their album soared to #1 on Billboard, iTunes, and Amazon jazz charts.

In a 2017 interview with NPR, Ross credited 20th century American gospel and folk singer Bessie Jones as laying much of the groundwork for the band due to her extensive recording and documentation of the songs and rhymes later used in Ranky Tanky.

Grammy-nominated Quentin Baxter (drums, percussion), Kevin Hamilton (bass), Artistic Director and Conductor of the Charleston Jazz Orchestra Charlton Singleton (trumpet, vocals), and Clay Ross (guitar, vocals) first came together in 1998, fresh out of university, to form a seminal Charleston jazz quartet. Mixing Gullah traditions with large doses of jazz, gospel, funk, and R&B, these South Carolina natives have come together again, joined by one of the low country’s most celebrated vocalists and American Idol competitor Quiana Parler, to celebrate the bone-deep mix of spirituals and gutbucket blues that mark the low country mainland and Sea Islands—music made by a self-contained culture of descendants of enslaved Africans that introduced such indelible parts of American songbook as “Kum Bah Yah” and “Michael Rowed the Boat Ashore.

On March 15, 2019, Ranky Tanky debuted the stirring new single “Freedom” with a performance on NBC’s TODAY. The song leads the group’s upcoming sophomore album, Good Time, set for release in fall of 2019.

“The idea of ‘Freedom’ is at the heart of the American identity, and particularly for the Gullah people who are descendants of enslaved African Americans,” states the band as a collective. “Freedom is a universal anthem. This song holds a universal truth, yet undoubtedly represents something different to every individual that hears it.”

Tickets for this soulful performance are $44-$60 (prices subject to increase based on demand) and may be purchased online at www.wilson-center.com, via phone at 262-781-9520, or in person at the Wilson Center Box Office at 19805 W. Capitol Drive in Brookfield’s Mitchell Park. Parking at the Wilson Center is free.

In addition to the public Wilson Center concert, Ranky Tanky will be giving two back-to-back performances for students at Milwaukee charter school Capitol West Academy on the morning of May 17. As part of the Wilson Center’s Arts- Reach program, both performances will celebrate a weeklong visual arts residency taking place at the school in partnership with the Wilson Center and Ghanaian painter Francis Annan Affotey. Throughout the week, approximately 15 students will work with Affotey to create artwork inspired by Gullah music, with the project to be unveiled at the performance. For more information on the arts education outreach sessions/ performances, contact education@wilson-center. com or 262-373-5037.

Ranky Tanky is presented as part of the Wilson Center’s 2018/2019 Performing Arts Series, which is made possible by Enterforce, Godfrey & Kahn S.C., and Krause Funeral Homes & Cremation Services. Arts education outreach with Ranky Tanky is made possible by Wilson Center Residency Sponsor Herzfeld Foundation, and this project is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts. The Wilson Center is grateful for the support of Show Media Partner 88Nine Radio Milwaukee.

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