Celebrate the music, culture of Southern Appalachia

Blending traditional Appalachian folk music and stories, Sparky and Rhonda Rucker take audiences on an emotional journey through four hundred years of African-American cultural and folk history. Their concerts combine poignant stories of slavery and war with railroad songs, old-time blues, Civil War music, gospel hymns, work songs, ballads, civil rights songs and their own compositions. Sparky and Rhonda Rucker will be performing as part of the Folkus Project concert series at 8 p.m. Friday, April 6 at May Memorial Unitarian Universalist Society, 3800 East Genesee St., Syracuse.
Internationally acclaimed James “Sparky” Rucker is recognized as a leading folklorist, historian, musician, storyteller and author. He has combined his love for blues and songs from the black ballad tradition with a desire to both educate and entertain. Accompanying himself on guitar and banjo, Sparky spices his stories with humor that might include an amusing rendition of a Brer Rabbit tale or one of his witty commentaries on current events. His dynamic vocals can be raucous, comical, outrageous or sensitive. A master of the slide guitar, he brings his own touch to the blues of Robert Johnson and other legends, as well as his original compositions. Sparky's wife Rhonda plays piano and adds her sweet vocal harmonies, a gutsy blues harmonica, old-time banjo and rhythmic bones to their music.
A former public school teacher, Rucker takes an imaginative approach to teaching history. Whether garbed in the uniform of a Union soldier or in his more familiar black boots, vest, neckerchief and cowboy hat, he weaves music into captivating stories that the history books don’t always tell. Toe-tapping tunes combined with history and tall tales result in a rich, humor-filled performance. "Anybody who's ever been to one of our concerts knows that I give you a lecture, then I give you a song about it," laughs Sparky.
Their release, "Treasures and Tears," was nominated for the W.C. Handy Award for Best Traditional Recording. They also contributed music to the syndicated television miniseries The Wild West. Their unique renditions of "John Henry" and "Jesse James" were used in the National Geographic Society’s media project entitled "Storytelling in North America." They were also featured on "Old Music for New Ears," a video produced by Kentucky Educational Television. Their special passion for the American Civil War inspired the development of "The Blue and Gray in Black and White," a historical program that tells stories from the war in music and narrative.
Sparky has been singing songs and telling stories from the American tradition for more than 40 years and has released more than 11 recordings. As a teenager he was active in the civil rights movement, performing freedom songs at marches and sit-ins, often sharing the stage with folk singers like Pete Seeger and Guy Carawan. Rhonda began taking piano lessons from a ragtime player when she was four years old. In 1989 she started performing with Sparky and appears on five recordings with him. They have appeared on numerous radio programs, including National Public Radio’s Morning Edition, Prairie Home Companion and Mountain Stage. He also performed in two videos produced by the Public Broadcasting System; "Carry it On" and "Amazing Grace: Music in America."
Admission to Friday’s show is $10. For reservations, email tickets@folkus.org or call 440-7444.

Rating: 2.8/5 (12 votes cast)

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