When husband and wife folk duo Sparky and Rhonda Rucker perform, they weave American history and storytelling into their guitar-strumming, banjo-plucking shows.
The Tennessee couple have been traveling the country off and on since the late 1980s, regaling audiences with traditional folk songs and the rich tales that come with them.
The Ruckers will perform at two local schools March 27. They will be at Lady's Island Elementary at 9 a.m. and Port Royal Elementary at 2 p.m.
One of Rhonda Rucker's favorite stories is about legendary abolitionist Harriet Tubman and the raid she led on the Combahee River ferry crossing during the Civil War. The Union army raid freed more than 700 slaves from Colleton and Beaufort counties, which was the largest liberation of slaves in American history.
"My husband started telling that story on stage, then I ended up being the one to tell about it because I was so interested in it," Rucker said.
Rucker thought the story would make a great book for kids. Her original idea was for a picture book, but she later thought Tubman's story was better suited for older children, she said.
The result was "Swing Low, Sweet Harriet," a historical novel for young readers, based on the raid led by Tubman.
"I like kids books. I think they're important because the books you remember for the rest of your life got you into reading," Rucker said.
"Swing Low, Sweet Harriet" is set in Beaufort and is told from the perspective of a 13-year-old slave named Ben. Ben isn't sure who to trust in the war -- he hears talk of Yankee boats coming to free the slaves, but could be beaten or sold for conspiring with the Union. He must ultimately decide whether he is willing to risk everything for an opportunity for freedom.
The title of the book stems from Gullah legend that slaves sang the song, "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot," and changed it to talk in code, Rucker said. By singing lyrics that covertly referred to the Underground Railroad and escaping to the North and Canada, they were able to avoid slave owners' suspicion.
Rucker will discuss her new book at the elementary schools in addition to performing songs with Sparky. The Ruckers perform for adult audiences too, but it's nice to be able to instill an appreciation for history, reading and music in younger groups, Rucker said.
"I think a lot of times the music helps them remember the history we teach."
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