Gullah music is reaching new audiences thanks to the success of three College of Charleston alumni whose band, Ranky Tanky, has hit No. 1 on the Billboard charts. And the band will be bringing its chart-topping sound to campus later this year as part of Spoleto Festival USA.
Founded by Clay Ross ’98, Ranky Tanky, which is a Gullah term loosely translated as “work it” or “get funky,” employs the essential elements of traditional Gullah music infused with modern jazz and R&B. Ranky Tanky features a quintet of musicians including Ross on vocals and guitar, Quentin Baxter ’98 on drums, Kevin Hamilton ’95 on bass, Charlton Singleton on trumpet and vocals, and Quiana Parler on vocals. Ross, Baxter and Hamilton all majored in music at the College. Baxter currently works as adjunct faculty at CofC, teaching jazz percussion.
After a quiet start in 2016 touring the United States, the group launched a European tour during the summer of 2017 before releasing its self-titled debut album in October. The band reach No. 1 on both Billboard’s Jazz and Contemporary Jazz charts the week of Jan. 22, 2018. The rankings are based on weekly sales and streams.
The band’s popularity has soared in recent months with a featured interview on NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross in December and a review on All Things Considered, which praised Parler for her rousing vocals and the band’s ability to blend elements of jazz, blues and R&B.
Following the band’s appearance on Fresh Air, the group reached No. 1 on both iTunes and amazon’s jazz charts. The band is currently ranked at No. 18 on amazon’s jazz chart and No. 57 on the iTunes jazz list.
Music professor Edward Hart ’88, who taught Ross and Baxter during their time as students at the College, says it is exciting to see the band’s success promoting “one of the Lowcountry’s most important cultural elements,” traditional Gullah music. Ross and his bandmates’ “creative entrepreneurialism,” says Hart, is exactly the type of approach music faculty encourage students to take when pursuing careers in performing arts.
“It is so wonderful that Ranky Tanky can act as ambassadors for the College of Charleston Department of Music as they are out conquering the jazz world,” says Hart, who chairs the College’s music department.
The band is returning to its CofC roots on June 2, 2018, with a concert in Cistern Yard as part of Spoleto Festival USA. Ranky Tanky will kickoff its 2018 performance schedule in February with a show at The Passport Series in Schenectady, New York.