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Rankin Junior Tamburitzans perform at the White House, December 1998
Rankin Junior Tamburitzans perform at the White House, December 1998

Rankin Junior Tamburitzans

Hardship and unrest in their native countries caused thousands of eastern Europeans to immigrate to the United States in the early 1900s. Many chose to settle in the coal-mining and steel-making communities of Western Pennsylvania, whose green rolling Allegheny Mountains reminded them of the hills of their homelands. Just southeast of Pittsburgh down the Monogahela River is the small steel-producing community of Rankin, Pennsylvania. In the early 1900s, immigrant Slavic workers, with little or no experience and with desperate need of work, were given jobs in the Rankin steel mills. Rankin became heavily populated with people predominately from Croatia. They settled into their own neighborhoods, speaking their native language, eating their native foods; a casual visitor would have had a hard time distinguishing them from villages in Stari Kraj (the Old County). Passing the heritage on to the younger generation became an important priority for the new Croatian immigrants. The desire to perpetuate their native customs and traditions gave rise to the Tamburitzans. For the past 40 years, the Rankin Junior Tamburitzans ("Tammies") have played a vital part in maintaining and preserving the heritage of Eastern Europe.

The tamburica is a lute-like stringed instrument, and the Slavic people who play it, the tamburitzans. But the word has come to encompass much more: the dances, costumes, music, songs and customs of Croatia, Bulgaria, Slovenia, Macedonia and Serbia -- the Slavic nations. One group striving to keep the traditions of the tamburitzans alive is the Rankin Junior Tamburitzans.

The roots of the group date back to 1958 when the Kolo Club of Rankin was formed. ( Kolo means "circle," the shape in which many of the Slavic dances are performed.) Croatian parents arranged to have their children educated in Croatian music and dance; in November of 1959, the children's first annual concert took place at one of the parents' homes. The Rankin Croatian Beneficial Club has played a vital role in the success of the group, their hall serving as a place for rehearsals and concerts for many years. The amateur Kolo group soon received invitations from the surrounding communities to perform at functions for various organizations.

Under the auspices of the Duquesne University Tamburitzans School of Music, the Rankin Kolo Group took the name Rankin Junior Tamburitzans in 1964. Four years later the Tammies further contributed to the propagation of the Croatian arts by joining the Croatian Fraternal Union, and have participated in many of the CFU's annual junior festivals. In 1994, the Rankin Tammies became a chartered Croatian member of the Pittsburgh Folk Festival, which provides a celebration of Pittsburgh's many ethnic communities. Although the Tammies have performed across the United States and Canada, it is in the Pittsburgh area of Western Pennsylvania that the majority of their concerts and events take place.

The Rankin Junior Tamburitzans have engaged in many fund-raisers over the years to raise money for travel, new costumes and equipment, but none has been so popular as their annual Lenten season pirogi cook-off and sale. (A pirogi is a Slavic culinary staple: a dumpling filled with sauerkraut or potatoes.) It has become an eagerly anticipated annual Pittsburgh tradition.

In December 1998, the Rankin Junior Tamburitzans experienced the pinnacle of their 40 year performance history when they were asked to appear at the White House holiday celebration.

Project documentation includes seven pages of text, a videotape of a Tamburitzan performance, a concert program, and ten 8 x 10 color photographs with descriptions.

Originally submitted by: Michael F. Doyle, Representative (18th District).

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The Local Legacies project provides a "snapshot" of American Culture as it was expressed in spring of 2000. Consequently, it is not being updated with new or revised information with the exception of "Related Website" links.

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