Old-Time Blues and Storytelling Set for Hoffman Center

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Sparky and Rhonda Rucker will present a concert of old-time blues music Mar. 29

The Hoffman Center for the Arts in Manzanita will host a concert featuring old-time blues, Appalachian music, ballads, slave songs, spirituals and original music by Sparky and Rhonda Rucker. The concert is Tuesday, March 29 at 7 p.m. Admission will be a sliding scale $10-15 at the door.

The Ruckers perform throughout the U.S. and overseas, singing songs and telling stories from the American folk tradition. They weave history, traditional storytelling, and humor into their concerts, and have been featured tellers at the International Storytelling Center and Festival.

The duo accompany themselves with finger-style picking and bottleneck blues guitar, blues harmonica, old-time banjo, piano, spoons, and bones.

Over forty years of performing, the Ruckers have appeared at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. and the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, as well as on NPR’s On Point, Prairie Home Companion, Mountain Stage, and Morning Edition. Their recording, Treasures & Tears, was nominated for a W.C. Handy Award, and their music is also included on the Grammy-nominated anthology, Singing Through the Hard Times.

JAMES “SPARKY” RUCKER has been singing songs and telling stories from the American tradition for over fifty years.

Sparky grew up in Knoxville, Tennessee and began playing guitar at age eleven. He is descended from a long line of preachers and law enforcement officers, and his sense of justice stems from both of these traditions. Sparky’s raucous guitar and singing styles are a direct result of his having performed in many doo-wop, soul, and rock bands.

Sparky has been involved with the civil rights movement since the 1950s. He participated in workshops at the Highlander Center with many prominent people, including Rosa Parks, Myles Horton, and Bernice Reagon. He marched shoulder-to- shoulder with SNCC Freedom Singers Matthew and Marshall Jones and sang at rallies, marches, and sit-ins alongside other folksingers such as Guy Carawan and Pete Seeger. He worked to win recognition and benefits for white Southern Appalachian coal miners as a staff member of the Council of the Southern Mountains in the 1970s.

After graduating from University of Tennessee, Sparky taught school in Chattanooga before becoming a full-time folksinger.

Sparky’s early blues mentors include Rev. Pearly Brown (who taught Duane Allman how to play bottleneck-style guitar), Buddy Moss (who taught Blind Boy Fuller), and Johnny Shines (who traveled with blues legend Robert Johnson). He also picked up pointers from Babe Stovall, Big Joe Williams, John Jackson, Robert Jr. Lockwood, and many others.

As an author, Sparky contributed stories to anthologies such as Breathing the Same Air, More Ready-To-Tell Tales and The August House Book of Scary Stories. He was a contributing author for the Encyclopedia of Appalachia and also co-wrote a chapter for the storytelling book, Team Up! Tell In Tandem!

RHONDA HICKS RUCKER practiced medicine for five years before becoming a full-time musician, author, and storyteller. She is a versatile singer and performer, playing blues harmonica, piano, clawhammer banjo, and rhythmic bones. Rhonda appears on nine recordings with her husband. Their 1991 release, Treasures and Tears, was nominated for the W.C. Handy Award for Best Traditional Recording.

Rhonda grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, and has played piano since the age of four. She took piano lessons for many years from Fannie Woods Mansfield, an elderly woman who was both a ragtime composer and an organist at the local Baptist Church.

Rhonda has become a passionate voice in social and environmental advocacy through her songwriting. Her background as a physician also provides her with unique insights into numerous other social problems. Using her versatile musicianship, she has created moving songs about such topics as global warming, the broken health care system, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.  These songs are showcased on their 2009 album release entitled One Earth.

Rhonda is also a freelance writer. She was a contributing author for the Encyclopedia of Appalachia, and co-wrote a chapter for Team Up! Tell In Tandem!, a storytelling book. Rhonda’s historical novel for young readers, Swing Low, Sweet Harriet, was published by Motes Books in 2013.

Their website is www.sparkyandrhonda.com.