The Rankins | The Canadian Encyclopedia


The Rankins

The Rankins. Pop and traditional Celtic group, hon D MUS (Acadia) 1996.

The Rankins

The Rankins. Pop and traditional Celtic group, hon D MUS (Acadia) 1996. The Rankins (until 1998 known as The Rankin Family) was established in Mabou, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia in 1989, with John Morris (b 1959, d near Whale Cove, NS, 16 Jan 2000; BA [St Francis Xavier] 1980); Raylene (b 1960, d at Halifax, 30 Sept 2012; BA [St Francis Xavier] 1982, LlB [Dalhousie] 1987); Jimmy (b 1964; BA Fine Arts [Nova Scotia College of Design] 1988; the group's main songwriter); Cookie (Carol, b 1965; BA [Acadia] 1989); and Heather (b 1967; BA Theatre [Acadia] 1989). In the 1970s five Rankin siblings - Geraldine (b 1957, m Coyne, d Calgary 10 Jan 2007; piano, auto harp and vocals); Genevieve (guitar, piano and vocals); David (guitar and vocals); John Morris (bass guitar, piano, fiddle and vocals); and Raylene (vocals) - played at weddings, dances and local events in Cape Breton. When the older three left home, Jimmy (vocals, guitar, drum); Cookie; and Heather (vocals) took their places. All performed while studying.

The Rankin Family's music incorporated Celtic, traditional, folk, country, rock and pop styles using instruments ranging from piano and fiddle to mandolin, steel guitar and percussion. The popularity of their original songs and arrangements of traditional jigs, reels and Celtic folk songs soon led to performances at folk festivals. Simultaneously, The Rankin Family built a reputation internationally through acclaimed tours from the early 1990s, from England and Scotland to Australia, New Zealand and the USA.

Recordings 1989-96

In 1989, The Rankin Family released its first independent cassette, The Rankin Family, followed in 1990 by Fare Thee Well Love. In 1989, they appeared in CBC's On the Road Again, followed by the CBC special Here Come the Rankins in 1990. In 1992 EMI reissued The Rankin Family (which went platinum) and Fare Thee Well Love, the latter going quintuple platinum and bringing them national stardom. The title song was No. 1 on the adult contemporary charts for three weeks and one of the year's biggest Top 40 singles.

Also in 1992, North Country was released. In 1995, the band released the EP Grey Dusk of Eve. The same year, Endless Seasons evidenced the band's versatility and crossover appeal, fusing fiddle-based traditional music with contemporary roots music. This album carried original songs by John Morris, Cookie and Jimmy Rankin. Total sales of their first five CDs topped 1 million copies. The Rankin Family Collection (1996) became another bestseller.

Disbanding and Subsequent Reunion

By October 1998, Raylene left the group, and in 1999 The Rankins disbanded. In 2003 Souvenir, a greatest hits package, was released. By 2006 the Rankins were back, with John Morris' daughter Molly. The CD Reunion symbolised their return to classic folk and roots music, and won the East Coast Music Award (ECMA) for roots/traditional group recording of the year. Backstage Pass, a DVD of an 18 Oct 1995 concert at The Orpheum in Vancouver, garnered an ECMA in 2008 and became a CTV special. In January 2007, The Rankins began a coast-to-coast tour that again entrenched their status as a leading Canadian group. In 2009, The Rankins undertook a 22-city national tour.


Since 1991, the group has won over a dozen ECMAs, several Junos including entertainer of the year and group of the year, three Canadian Country Music awards, two RPM/Big Country Music Awards, and the 1996 Celtic Connections award for the biggest selling ticket in the history of that festival. Jimmy Rankin has won several ECMAs, SOCAN awards, and a Canadian Radio Music award.

Solo Careers

John Morris Rankin made his mark as a composer of recordings by Ashley MacIsaac, Natalie MacMaster, Howie MacDonald, and Buddy MacMaster.

Raylene, Cookie, and Heather Rankin sang on Carly Simon's Bedroom Tapes in 1999 and took part in an international documentary, Celtic Tides. The sisters tour their Christmas album with symphonies across Canada; Raylene has performed with Symphony Nova Scotia and released two solo albums. Her last album, All the Diamonds, was released in 2012, shortly before her death from cancer.

Jimmy Rankin has achieved national success, with solo albums including Song Dog (2001), Handmade (2003) and Edge of Day (2007). He has collaborated with songwriters such as Gordie Sampson and Patricia Conroy and opened for Keith Urban, John Prine, and Great Big Sea, and has performed with Symphony Nova Scotia and the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra.

Heather Rankin has appeared in films including The Hanging Garden, Marion Bridge, The Wild Dogs, Scotland PA, Nonsense Revolution, and Halo, and in the television series Lexx. She hosted CBC's Celtic Tides in 1999.

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