What started as a passion project to bring the traditional music of the Gullah people to contemporary audiences led to a life-changing moment for College of Charleston alumni Clay Ross ’98, Quentin Baxter ’98 and Kevin Hamilton ’95. The musicians won a Grammy Award on Sunday, Jan. 26, 2020, with their band Ranky Tanky.
The band’s sophomore album “Good Time” won for the category of Best Regional Roots Music Album. Founded in 2016 with a quintet of musicians including Ross on vocals and guitar, Baxter on drums, Hamilton on bass, Charlton Singleton on trumpet and vocals, and Quiana Parler on vocals, Ranky Tanky, which is a Gullah term loosely translated as “work it” or “get funky,” takes a modern approach to the traditional sounds of Gullah music. Rooted in the cultural traditions passed down from West African slaves in the sea islands of South Carolina, Georgia and North Carolina, Gullah culture encompasses a rich African American heritage expressed through arts, crafts, cuisine and the creole influenced language of Gullah.
“It is an honor to be here to stand on the shoulders of our Gullah ancestry and bring this music and message to the world,” said Singleton during the group’s acceptance of the award in Los Angeles on Sunday. “A very special thanks to our families, our friends and everybody in the Gullah community for their continued love and support. In closing, thank you to the artists and voters and especially to the recording academy for this level of diligence and research and this historic moment for Gullah being at the Grammy Awards.”
Ross, Baxter and Hamilton all majored in music as students at the College, and Baxter previously served as adjunct faculty at CofC, teaching jazz percussion.
Ranky Tanky has had a steady rise in success, culminating in their Grammy win. The group’s self-titled debut album, which came out in 2017, hit No. 1 on Billboard’s Jazz and Contemporary Jazz charts in January 2018. “Good Time” debuted in July 2019 at No. 2 on Billboard’s Jazz Chart.
Featured image: Ranky Tanky band members (from left) Charlton Singleton, Clay Ross, Quiana Parler, Kevin Hamilton and Quentin Baxter with their Grammy statuette on Sunday, Jan. 26, 2020. (Photo by Robby Klein)