Remembering Raylene Rankin
The siblings’ interests also extend beyond the music industry. In 2005, Raylene teamed up with her sisters Cookie and Heather to the Red Shoe Pub. The inn has played host to numerous concerts from the Rankin sisters, as well as Jimmy Rankin and a whole host of other local Cape Breton musicians. (and many Cape-Bretoners as well).
In her conversation with Michael Enright, Raylene was candid about her cancer battle, as well as her difficulty in having children; her only child, Alexander – named after her father – was born when Raylene was 38 years old. (By comparison, John Morris already had two toddlers when the band released their first album).
Perhaps that was part of the reason the group split in 1999. Raylene explained that when they first formed as a group they had a five-year plan, a ten-year plan; but neither of those included family. She remembers fondly how her brother John Morris sacrified so much in those first few years. Her son was just a year old when the band disbanded and Raylene clearly wanted some family time after trying so hard for many years to start one.
After beating cancer, Raylene reunited with her siblings in 2007 and they went on tour for the first time in almost ten years. They were joined on stage this time round by niece Molly (daughter of John Morris, she was just twelve when her father was killed). The tour also resulted in a new album, simply titled “Reunion”. A second mini reunion tour followed in 2009 as well as the album “These Are The Moments”. Raylene almost didn’t make this reunion tour; her cancer had returned and at times she felt she was too ill to perform. But, like so many times previously in her life, Raylene relied on her faith and pulled through.
What many fans might not know Raylene is that she has a law degree. She finished up law school in the late 1980’s, just before the band hit it big. She made the wise decision to follow her and her siblings musical dreams.
In the hours and days following her death, there has been an outpouring of support. Fellow Cape Bretoner Rita MacNeil spoke fondly on Rankin and even Liberal Rodger Cuzner read an emotional letter in parliament. Other memories were recalled by her uncle Donald, former neighbour and fellow musician Joey Beaton and songwriter Leon Dubinsky (author of Rise Again).
There are plenty of Celtic-type musicians from Cape Breton and the surrounding area; Ashley MacIsaac, Barra MacNeils, Natalie McMaster, Leahy, Madison Violet, but the Rankins were among the first and certainly the most well-known and influential. Raylene was often seen as the vocal centrepiece of her family’s musical group and had the talent and poise to back it up. (In the early days she, along with John Morris, also acted as the band’s managers).
Raylene said that Rise Again was about Hope and the future of our children. While it is not yet known whether Alexander – now 14 – will carry on his mother’s music, his older cousin Molly Rankin certainly has picked up the family tradition. In 2011, she released her debut “She”, which is available on zunior.com. The album steers away from traditional and Celtic tunes that made the family famous and is instead a more folksy, singer-songwriter piece of work.
Raylene may be gone, but her words and her voice live on. That’s the thing about music – it’s eternal. This family has dealt with tragedy before and will in the future. They will deal with it the way have always dealt with it – through their faith and their music. It is unclear whether there will ever be another Rankin Family album. What is clear is that Raylene’s angelic voice, her spirit, her memory will certainly Rise Again.
IN MEMORY OF RAYLENE MARGUERITE RANKIN-ANDERSON
September 15, 1960-September 30, 2012
An angelic voice,
So pure and poised
Hitting the highest notes of heaven
And the deepest tones of our soul
Her brothers’ hands following her lead
As the strings fade away
Three sisters in harmony
A truly beautiful tune
And now she has gone to the north country
High above us all
Where music is played in an Endless season
And thus her words live on
Her soul and spirit Rise Again
In the faces of our children
In the voices of our song
In the waves out on the ocean, she rises again
So many questions
To ask the light shining from above
But for now
Fare Thee Well Love
Fare Thee Well