Ranky Tanky: Continuing the Legacy of a Living Culture

May 29, 2019

As a young’un growing up in South Carolina, to be called a “Geechee” was a put-down.  And of course, being called “a country talkin’, rice eatin’ Geechee” was the ultimate diss.


The term ‘Geechee’ actually refers to the “Gullah,” those of African descent who live in and around the coastal region of my home state of South Carolina. “Geechee” may be derived from the name of the Ogeechee River near Savannah, Georgia.  To this day the Gullah have retained their music, language and customs and still speak with a thick accent referred to as Geechee – a mix of English and African languages.  It was spoken by slaves who were required to learn English but still didn’t want the masters to know exactly what they were saying.  To this day they’ve kept most of their language and customs intact. 



That rich culture and heritage came alive over the weekend with a performance of the group Ranky Tanky at the Zeiders American Dream Theater in Virginia Beach.  Ranky Tanky is a musical ensemble out of Charleston, SC who met while studying music at the College of Charleston.  The group was originally a jazz band who played together nearly 20 years ago before going their separate ways. They re-grouped recently and added lead vocalist Quiane Parker (who was a contestant on season 2 of American Idol.)  The songs they performed were an eclectic, jazz inspired blend of traditional spirituals, dance music and children’s rhymes.  Most of which I fondly remembered singing as a child growing up in South Carolina, like these lyrics:


I asked my mother for fifty cents

To see the elephant jump the fence.

He jumped so high he reached the sky

And didn’t get back till the Fourth of July.

To see the elephant jump the fence.

He jumped so high he touched the sky

He never came back till the 4th of July.


“Ranky Tanky” is also the self-titled debut track of their new album which went #1 on iTunes, Amazon and the Billboard jazz chart.  Their performance was part church revival, part school yard games, and part history lesson.  And while their style was built on the music and culture of slave descendants, for all in attendance Ranky Tanky’s first ever performance at the Zeider spoke to the heart and soul.

The concert was amazing. Initially the show dredged up some negative memories from my youth of how the term ‘Geechee’ had been uttered by many in ignorance. However, as the show progressed I was struck by the diversity of both the band and audience, and realized Ranky Tanky’s ability to bring music fans together is a real celebration of cultural diversity.