musician, author, storyteller

Rhonda Rucker

"This CD features Rhonda's fine vocals, wonderful piano accompaniments and some excellent songwriting, showcasing an environmental sensibility, never more in evidence than in the title track, "One Earth," a song eloquent in its direct simplicity."
GREG ARTZNER, reviewing One Earth

"Rhonda’s songwriting shines in some beautiful songs, including the soothing “Living River” and the sensitive ”Circle of Love.” These are songs that will be sung by many in the years to come…."
DAVE WINSHIP, reviewing Let Freedom Ring

RHONDA LYNN RUCKER practiced medicine before becoming a full-time musician, author, and storyteller. Rhonda performs with her husband, James “Sparky” Rucker, adding vocals, piano, banjo, blues harmonica, and rhythmic bones to their music. They appeared on the Grammy-nominated CD, Singing Through the Hard Times, in 2009. Rhonda has recorded nine albums with her husband, and their 1991 release, Treasures and Tears, was nominated for the W.C. Handy Award for Best Traditional Recording.


Rhonda grew up in Louisville, Kentucky. She began taking piano lessons at the age of four from Fannie Woods Mansfield, an elderly woman who was both a ragtime composer and an organist at the local Baptist Church. Mrs. Mansfield's influence is evident in Rhonda's barrelhouse piano playing as well as her rocking gospel melodies. Rhonda grew up attending the Methodist Church, learning many of the old hymns and gospel songs and occasionally substituting for the organist. As a teenager, she also taught herself to play guitar, acted in community plays, and sang in the high school chorus.


Rhonda attended University of Louisville for undergraduate studies, then completed her medical degree and internal medicine residency at University of Kentucky in Lexington. During her medical school and residency years, she spent many months in the small towns of eastern Kentucky, absorbing the stories she heard from patients and learning the “art of medicine,” as her mentor Dr. David Asher put it. It was here she grew to appreciate the heritage and culture of Southern Appalachia. She later practiced medicine as a board-certified internist for five years in Maryville, Tennessee.


In 1989, Rhonda began performing on stage with Sparky, playing blues harmonica and adding vocal harmonies. She later added piano, clawhammer banjo, and rhythmic bones to her instrumental repertoire, adding variety to their stage performances.

The Ruckers contributed music to the syndicated television miniseries, The Wild West. Rhonda has taught blues harmonica workshops and classes at music camps and festivals. Her performing credits include NPR’s On Point, the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., the International Storytelling Center, the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, and the National Folk Festivals of Australia and Scotland. She has also contributed to educational media projects for Scholastic, the National Geographic Society, Kentucky Educational Television, and the Eastern National Park and Monument Association.

The Ruckers' recording, Treasures & Tears, was nominated for a W.C. Handy Award, and their music is included on the Grammy-nominated anthology, Singing Through the Hard Times. Additional performing credits include the Kerrville Folk Festival, the Walnut Valley Festival in Winfield, Kansas, the Mississippi Valley Blues Festival, the Clearwater Folk Festival, the Vancouver Folk Festival, and the Robert Johnson Memorial Blues Festival.


More recently, Rhonda has addressed difficult topics like global warming, the broken health care system, and post-traumatic stress disorder by creating powerful songs with melodies rooted in the folk and gospel traditions. Sparky and Rhonda have taken their environmental message across the country, performing at Earth Day celebrations, the Clearwater Festival in New York, national parks, and environmental education centers.


Writing has been a longtime passion of Rhonda’s. During childhood, she wrote poetry for fun. She was first published in ninth grade, when her English teacher helped her submit a literary analysis of The Great Gatsby.

With her medical background, it’s no surprise that Rhonda enjoys science writing. While she was practicing medicine, she contributed articles to the patient newsletter. She has also had articles published in The Daily Times (the local newspaper), The Hellbender Press (a regional environmental newspaper), and The Southerner (an online magazine). Her work for Blue Ridge Press, a syndicated column service, has been published in several southeastern newspapers, including the Chattanooga Times Free Press, The Roanoke Times, the Anniston Star, and the Southwest Virginia Enterprise. Rhonda also helped teach an environmental journalism course at the University of Tennessee in 2001.

Rhonda was a contributing author for the Encyclopedia of Appalachia, which was published by the University of Tennessee Press in 2006. She has also co-written a chapter for the book, Team Up! Tell In Tandem!, published by PRESTO & US Storytelling Publications in 2010.

More recently, Rhonda has focused on writing for young readers. Highlights magazine published her article, "Rescuing Miracle," in their February 2013 issue. Her debut novel, Swing Low, Sweet Harriet was published by Motes Books in October 2013.

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