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Members include Cookie Rankin,vocals; Heather Rankin, vocals; Jimmy Rankin, vocals, guitar; John Morris Rankin, piano, fiddle; Raylene Rankin, vocals; all born to Kathleen (Kaye) and Alexander (Buddy) Rankin. Addresses: Home--Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. Record Company--EMI Canada.

Music is something The Rankins were born into. Their parents weren't musicians and they don't come from a long line of musically inclined individuals. Yet the seventh generation Scot-Canadian family fivesome has become one of the most-lauded musical acts in Canada by keeping alive their Celtic roots.

p Raised in the small town of Mabou, Cape Breton Island, in Iverness County, on the Gulf of St. Lawrence in Nova Scotia, the Rankin kids were raised with Celtic music in their home, shared by 12 Rankin children and their parents, Kathleen (Kaye) and Alexander Rankin. "It's the first music we were exposed to," John Morris Rankin said of their Celtic-hearted sound to Performing Arts & Entertainment in Canada in a 1993 story. "Our parents were very influential in that area." Five of the Rankins broke out from the clan as musically talented. Cookie, Heather and Raylene found their places as vocalists, while Jimmy became not only guitarist for the group, but a singer-songwriter, as well. John Morris plays keyboard and fiddle.

They got their start entertaining at family parties and weddings, step dancing and playing a blend of country, pop and Celtic-folk music. Kaye worked for her children's success, driving them to The Rankin Family concerts, selling their early records and tapes from the back of her car and taking care of their ever-growing fan club. They decided to seriously pursue their musical careers in 1989, when they started playing well-received shows on the Canadian folk-festival circuit. John Morris told Performing Arts & Entertainment in Canada that they decided to "broaden our audience and hope to make a living.&" They developed a "repertoire that moves easily from traditional Gaelic ballads, jigs and reels to original songs with a country-rock flavor," observed Maclean's in a 1998 story.

When the English conquered the Scots, clan tartans, the Gaelic language and other Celtic-Scot mainstays were banned. Exodus ensued, and many Scots fled to the Nova Scotia region of Canada. It is estimated that though there were 100,000 Gaelic speakers in the area in the 1800s, only 800 to 1200 were fluent in the language in the late twentieth century, most of those being native to Scotland. The group's use of the near-extinct Gaelic language and traditional fiddle tunes celebrated their heritage and the history of Cape Breton.

The Rankins knew from the start, that the business might be tough for a group with such a traditional sound. "When we started out, we said, `okay, we're going to sing Gaelic songs'," Cookie told Steen. "We didn't think that we'd get farther than our front doorstep with it, but we thought we'd do it because it's something that we'd learned and personally liked."

They also worked the almost-lost art of step dancing into their act, and it became an audience favorite. "When we travel to folk festivals in Canada, or the US or UK, we're really surprised to find that (the Gaelic) goes over as well as everything else does," John Morris told Performing Arts & Entertainment in Canada. "To take it even further, the step dancing always goes over well. A lot of the time, that's what really gets the crowd going."

Their blend of old and new must have been the right one as the Rankins became a huge success in Canada. They played sold-out performances, sold nearly two million albums and earned a number of Junos, the Canadian equivalent to the Grammys. They were unable to reach the same level of success in the United States. Their debut, The Rankin Family, released in Canada in 1989, was never released in the United States and their subsequent effort, Fare Thee Well Love, was quietly released in the United States by Liberty Records. North Country, and Endless Seasons met similar fates. Their 1998 release, Uprooted, was taken over, along with their entire catalog, by the Grapevine label, with the intent to release them in the United States.

The Rankins were lucky to find professionals in the music industry who respected their traditional sound and encouraged it. Their record label, EMI, had ideas similar to the group's and North Country, their first EMI release, Cookie and John Morris spoke about the artist-label relationship they shared. "They haven't influenced what we put on the album and they haven't influenced how we put things on the album," Cookie told Steen and John Morris added, "I think [the group] and the record company [were] quite concerned about not changing our sound too much." That relationship has been successful for both. They released their next two records with EMI, both to rave Canadian critical and public response.

Still all in their 30s at the time of the Uprooted release, the members were still evolving individually. But there was a change in the image of the group as a whole. As Diane Turbide of Maclean's noted in 1998, "Changes in hair, clothes, and even the CD's moody design reflect a shift from wholesomeness to a darker, more edgy look." The magazine even pointed out an "almost funky quality to a couple of the Celtic-flavored tunes." This progression and the record's title may have stemmed from the loss of their mother a few months before the release was completed.

For a long time known as The Rankin Family, the group streamlined their stage name for Uprooted. Turbide concluded that they seemed "less inclined to trade off the family aspect of their act, preferring to think of themselves as five musicians who happen to be siblings." That said, the family aspect of the group is still the tie that ultimately holds them together. They also have in common that four out of the five of them earned arts-related university degrees, Raylene being the only exception. She was a practicing lawyer before she dedicated herself to music full time.

When asked the inevitable question about what it's like to work and travel with one' brothers and sisters, John Morris explained to Steen that he found a balance. "It's got more advantages than disadvantages. If you're brought up in the same house, I think you have similar ways of looking at music."

by Brenna Sanchez

The Rankins's Career

Began playing family parties in Mabou, Cape Breton Island, Canada; started playing folk festivals as The Rankin Family, 1989 ; released two independent cassettes; U.S. debut Fare Thee Well Love, Capitol, 1992 with; signed to EMI, 1992; releasedNorth Country, 1994; Endless Seasons, 1996; Uprooted, 1998; became The Rankins in 1998.

The Rankins's Awards

Canadian Juno Award for Group of the Year, People's Choice for Canadian Entertainer of the Year, Single of the Year for "Fare Thee Well Love" and Country Group of the Year, 1994.

Famous Works

Further Reading



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Visitor Comments Add a comment…

over 15 years ago

I have just finished watching your Dec., 08 tour!!WOW!! You are all excellent. I am terribly saddened for your losses, I have my parents gone, & abrother at age 40 (a twin) not my twin, and a sister age 52. Keep strong. All you hear about is musicians, artists and drugs, drinking etc., but not you people.WTG!! I am orig. fr Nfld, but living in Ontario, been all over, left Nl 39 yrs ago, stay close to home God Bless you one and all.

over 16 years ago

Why I asking about Mary Rankins- Leonowens, is because that would be my grand-mother. I would like to know if she is related to the father, Alexander Rankin, are they cousins.

over 16 years ago

I would like to know if a Mary Rankin was related to them, she married into the Leonowens family.