The Daily Tar Heel

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Monday October 25th


The Ruckers's folk music tells stories at ArtsCenter

Audiences will visit both the 1860s and the 1960s in a concert by musical duo Sparky and Rhonda Rucker tonight at The ArtsCenter in Carrboro.

The Ruckers, who met through the folk scene in the 80s, get their influence from a variety of musical genres, including folk, blues and gospel. The married couple has a large musical repertoire and performs covers of folk songs from throughout American history as well as original material.

The set list for the show will include songs from the Civil War era and the Civil Rights movement. The Tennessee-based musicians are performing a mix of material, including songs off of their new album “Let Freedom Ring.”

Sparky Rucker, who was a schoolteacher before becoming a full-time musician, said he always loved music growing up but got his introduction to folk through his involvement with the Civil Rights movement.

His mother took him to a sit-in when he was 14, and the experience inspired and resonated with him. Throughout his later years of activism, he became acquainted with many musicians and fellow activists, including Marshall and Matthew Jones.

“I guess the music was always there in me, but it’s not something I thought I would ever do for a living,” Sparky Rucker said.

Rhonda Rucker also became interested in music from a young age and began taking piano lessons when she was four years old. She initially worked with Sparky by helping him book gigs, but eventually joined him on stage. Throughout the years, the Ruckers have expanded their repertoire by mastering new instruments, including the harmonica and the 12-string guitar.

“Different sounds lend you to playing songs in different ways,” Rhonda Rucker said.

The duo also incorporates storytelling into their musical act. Rhonda Rucker recently published a historical novel about Harriet Tubman, and the couple plans to incorporate her story into the show.

They also plan on singing material from “Let Freedom Ring,” an album particularly inspired by Sparky Rucker’s time as an activist in the Civil Rights movement.

“We always try to leave the audience more informed than when they walked through the door,” Sparky Rucker said.

The Ruckers were invited to perform at The ArtsCenter by executive director Art Menius, who has known Sparky Rucker for many years. This is the couple’s first time performing at the venue, although they have played shows throughout the Triangle area.

“It’s a great introduction for people that don’t know a lot about Appalachian — particularly African American Appalachian — traditions,” Menius said of the show.

After years on the music scene, the Ruckers agree that — in addition to being able to play well — it’s important for any musician to really express the meaning and emotion behind their songs and entertain their audience.

“Learn to perform. You may be a wonderful musician but performance is another art entirely,” Rhonda Ruckers said.

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