Quiana Parler will perform folk spirituals “Kumbaya” and “Green Sally” Jan. 9 in a series of educational performances at Carnegie Hall in New York City | Photo provided

Star vocalist Quiana Parler of Charleston’s Grammy-winning Gullah ensemble Ranky Tanky will perform Jan. 9-14 at Carnegie Hall as part of an educational performance series. Ranky Tanky’s acclaimed trumpeter Charlton Singleton and bassist Kevin Hamilton will join Parler along with Lowcountry keyboardist Demetrius Doctor and multi-instrumentalist Calvin Baxter.  

The performance is part of Parler’s partnership with Carnegie Hall’s Musical Explorers educational program, which develops lessons for K-12 students on Gullah culture and musical traditions.

“I’ve been working on this project for over a year now, and we’re finally at the portion where we get to perform for the kids,” Parler told the Charleston City Paper. 

Singleton added, “This goes to show how good Charleston musicians and Lowcountry musicians are. You can call up a number of people and put them in just about any situation in any different genre of music and still get a good product.”

Parler will sing the well-known folk spirituals “Kumbaya” and “Green Sally,” which are the focus of the digital lessons she developed for the Musical Explorers program. Her hands-on lessons detail the Gullah history and heritage behind “Kumbaya” and “Green Sally,” teaching kids about traditional instruments, dances and games associated with the songs. Fellow Ranky Tanky band member drummer Quentin Baxter played a major role in the video and sound recording for the lessons. 

“Everyone knows ‘Kumbaya’ but not everyone knows the song actually originates from the Gullah culture,” Parler said. “Gullah culture is the root to pretty much all music, but people were never taught that.”

Her collaboration with Musical Explorers over the past year involved putting together a curriculum that presents aspects of the origins of Gullah culture, which is comprised of indigenous people groups in the coastal and sea island regions of the Carolinas, Georgia and Florida.

“It’s been amazing to be part of this program,” Parler said, “and I’ve been wondering how we can get it to Charleston — Savannah, Georgia, already adopted this Musical Explorers program.”

Charleston percussionist Gino Castillo has performed in Carnegie Hall’s Savannah-based Musical Explorers program hosted by Savannah Music Festival for the past five years. He said he appreciates how the program creates an immersive experience for kids, recalling a 2017 presentation from Grammy-award winning singer Falu in which she taught kids how to play different elements of classical Indian music. 

“Every year it brings different kinds of cultural exposure through music to the kids,” Castillo said. “I think we have a lack of that diversity and knowledge being passed on in Charleston.”  

Parler added, “How can we bring this program to Charleston — because if Savannah has it, why don’t we?”

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