Folk singers trace path to freedom from slavery through civil rights movement

Rhonda and Sparky Rucker performing on banjo and guitar
Folk musicians Rhonda and Sparky Rucker will perform at Pellissippi State on Thursday, Feb. 21.

Pellissippi State Community College will celebrate World Day of Social Justice through music and song with internationally known musicians, storytellers and authors Sparky and Rhonda Rucker.

Sparky and Rhonda’s “Let Freedom Ring” performance will be held 10:45 a.m.-12:05 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 21, in the Goins Building Auditorium on the Hardin Valley Campus, 10915 Hardin Valley Road.

The event is free and open to the public.

Sparky and Rhonda’s program at Pellissippi State will demonstrate how movements for justice have produced some of our country’s most inspiring songs and stories. They will trace the nation’s struggles from slavery and the Underground Railroad through the battles for women’s suffrage and workers’ rights and into the civil rights movement.

“As a social worker by training, I’ve been involved is social justice work for over 30 years, and I’ve always been amazed at how artists can utilize their works to reflect the time,” said Drema Bowers, director of Service-Learning and Civic Engagement for Pellissippi State. “That is especially true of musicians. Although I’ve only heard the Ruckers perform once, it made a lasting impression and I want others to share this experience.”

Sparky Rucker grew up in Knoxville and has been involved with the civil rights movement since the 1950s. He got his start in folk music during the movement, marching shoulder-to-shoulder with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee Freedom Singers Matthew and Marshall Jones and playing freedom songs at rallies alongside such luminaries as Guy and Candie Carawan, Pete Seeger and Bernice Reagon. In addition, he worked for the Poor People’s Campaign and helped to gain benefits for coal miners in Southern Appalachia. Sparky accompanies himself on guitar, banjo and spoons.

Rhonda Hicks Rucker practiced medicine for five years in Maryville, Tenn., 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 has become a passionate voice in social and environmental advocacy through her songwriting, creating moving songs about topics such as global warming, the broken health care system and post-traumatic stress disorder.

“Sparky and Rhonda are world-renowned performers, and we are fortunate to have them here in our area,” Bowers said. “It would be a shame not to take advantage of this opportunity to journey through time with them.”

To request accommodations for a disability for this event, call 865-539-7401 or email  accommodations@pstcc.eduFor more information about Pellissippi State, visit or call 865-694-6400.