Black Appalachian Storytellers of Tennessee Concert: Celebrating Our Voices Through Story and Song

The tradition of oral storytelling will be celebrated this Black History Month at the Black Appalachian Storytellers of Tennessee Concert Saturday, February 25, at 1:00 p.m. at the McMillan-Reese Chapel on Knoxville College campus. The concert will feature storytellers James “Sparky” and Rhonda Rucker, Linda Parris-Bailey and Kelle Jolly. Obayana Ajanaku, founder of Drums Up Guns Down, will provide African drum music.

The storytelling concert is the culminating project of local artist, Kelle Jolly. Kelle is a student in the Master of Arts in Communication and Storytelling Studies degree program at East Tennessee State University. She was inspired to present Black Appalachian Storytellers in concert after attending the National Association Black Storytellers (NABS) Conference in Baltimore, MA last November. “I witnessed Sparky being honored with a fellowship focused on Black storytelling in Appalachia, a region underrepresented on the national stage. Mother Linda Goss, one of the co-founders of NABS, is from Alcoa. It’s time to look for the leaders and learn from them.” The organizer hopes the event will build a bigger community of support for storytelling.

The storytellers all bring a wealth of talent and experience in performing. Sparky and Rhonda are multi-instrumentalists and storytellers who share stories of American life and social justice. They have recorded 10 albums together. Sparky’s performing credits include the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C., the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, and the International Storytelling Festival as well as NPR’s Prairie Home Companion, Mountain Stage, and Morning Edition. Linda Parris-Bailey is known throughout the art world as Executive/Creative Director and playwright for the Carpetbag Theatre. Her story-based plays with music are focused on themes of transformation and empowerment. Her new plays Yankee Bajan and Flushing are scheduled to premiere in 2023. Kelle Jolly is known as “The Tennessee Ukulele Lady”. She frequently performs locally at festivals such as the Jubilee Festival at the Laurel Theatre and the Louie Bluie Festival in Caryville. She is the founder of the Women in Jazz Jam Festival and Ukesphere of Knoxville.

The concert is free and open to the public. Families are welcome. Audiences will enjoy everything from folktales to personal stories with music. Contact Kelle Jolly by phone at (865)622-7174 or by email at for more information.