Soulful honey: Ranky Tanky to ‘Bring the Funk’ of Gullah culture back to Chautauqua


NPR once described Ranky Tanky’s music as “soulful honey to the ears.” After the release of their sophomore album Good Time, the Grammy Award-winning, Charleston-based ensemble is back to perform at 8:15 p.m. Wednesday, July 14 in the Amphitheater, showcasing the passionate tunes of the Gullah culture.

“Gullah” translates to “a people blessed by God.” The word itself originated from the Creole language of the Gullah people, typically referred to as “Geechee.” This language is based on different varieties of English, as well as the languages of Central and West Africa. The name “Ranky Tanky” also stems from the Gullah language, encouraging fans in attendance to “Get Funky!”

Ranky Tanky’s beginnings in the world of jazz resonate with the word, as their music taste is heavily inspired by the ageless music of the Gullah. For drummer Quentin E. Baxter, bassist Kevin Hamilton and trumpeter Charlton Singleton, it was important to incorporate this inspiration into their music, as the exploration of Gullah music is a cultural tradition in which they have roots. 

With this influence in mind, Ranky Tanky creates music that showcases their own specific sound, while also representing the Gullah culture in a very authentic way. While vocalists Quiana Parler and Clay Ross are not themselves from a Gullah community, they are well-acquainted with the music that inspires the culture. 

The incorporation of this jazz, gospel, funk, country and rhythm & blues within their music is “enough to provoke swinging hips and nodding heads,” according to Paste Magazine

Deborah Sunya Moore, the Institution’s senior vice president and chief program officer (interim) and vice president of performing and visual arts, said she wanted to bring Ranky Tanky back to Chautauqua following their debut Amp performance in 2018. 

“I first heard of Ranky Tanky on ‘Fresh Air’ with Terry Gross, and I thought they had such great music and artistry,” Moore said. “There is a focus (here) on big legends, but also lesser-known emerging artists with a voice and a mission to amplify.” 

Ranky Tanky is widely renowned for precisely what Moore describes, opening up the dialogue for topics, such as social injustice and unrest, using their musical gifts. 

“They use singing as an instrument in which to entertain, but also as a tool to teach and inform listeners about new cultures,” Moore said. “There is definitely an even match of not only excellence, but wisdom as well.”

Ranky Tanky took home a Grammy Award for Best Regional Roots Album for their 2019 LP Good Time. In their acceptance speech at the 62nd Annual Grammy Awards, the band used their platform to showcase the deep love and appreciation they hold for the Gullah culture.

“It’s an honor to be here, to stand on the shoulders of our Gullah ancestry and bring this music and message to the world,” Singleton said then. “This (is) just (a) historic moment for the Gullah, being at the Grammy Awards.”

Singleton, trumpeter and founding member of the band, reminisced on Ranky Tanky’s last performance at the Chautauqua Food & Film Festival back in 2018.

“It is an honor for us to play in Chautauqua,” Singleton said. “When I told some of my friends that we were playing there again, their eyebrows rose. They were familiar with all of the history and they just replied, “Wow. That’s pretty awesome.”

Tags : AmpGood TimeGullah CulturePopular EntertainmentRanky Tankysoulful honeyWeek Three
Jordyn Russell

The author Jordyn Russell

Jordyn Russell is a senior at Penn State University where she studies broadcast journalism and theater. Jordyn’s interest in reporting began during her freshman year when she was able to take her first journalism class, leading to her dream of becoming a news anchor within the entertainment industry. When she is not busy writing, Jordyn enjoys singing with her a cappella group, Shades of Blue, and performing in musicals.