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Mark W. Rankin
February 15, 1945 ~ September 9, 2023 (age 78) 78 Years Old
Mark William Rankin, of Easton, Maryland, died on September 9, 2023. He was born February 15, 1945 in Washington, D.C. to Joseph Rankin, M.D. and Eunice Duncan Rankin. His parents are predeceased as well as his brother Stephen. He is survived by his wife Ann Rasmussen (Easton MD), two brothers Gregory Rankin (Greenbelt MD) and David Findley (Mary) (Washington, D.C.), and many beloved Rankin and Duncan relatives.
Mark grew up in Adelphi and Annapolis, Maryland. He graduated from Annapolis High School in 1963 where he was a member of the undefeated football and wrestling teams in his senior year. The summer of 1963, before entering college, he embarked on a cross country journey hitchhiking from Maryland to California. That trip sparked a desire in him to see the wider world. He attended the University of Maryland as an engineering major, where he made the varsity football team his freshman year, unheard of without a scholarship according to his coach.
In 1964 he worked as a fire fighter for the U.S. Forest Service in the Angeles National Forest in Southern California and then moved to Berkeley, California in 1965. He joined the U.S. Merchant Marines and sailed out of Oakland, California in July 1966 with the Military Sealift Command, which was delivering helicopters to Vietnam. He also sailed from New Zealand to Antarctica aboard U.S. Geological Survey ship Eltanin which was plotting the bottom of the Indian Ocean.
After the Antarctic trip ended he decided to circumnavigate the globe for a year. What began as a one year trip ended up turning into a ten year adventure. His travels took him to New Zealand, Antarctica, Australia, Japan, Indonesia, Southeast Asia, India, the Middle East, North Africa, Europe, and South America. By the time he returned home he had visited 62 countries and had lived in Copenhagen and London. A self-taught guitarist and banjo player, he supported himself mainly as a musician playing in clubs and as a street musician.
After leaving the merchant Marines he went to Australia and then back to Vietnam where he was hired by the U.S. government to entertain the troops. He observed the disillusionment of many of the soldiers and decided in June 1968 to burn his draft card in Saigon. He was arrested by the Saigon police, turned over to a U.S. Embassy official, was released and told to leave the country. A photo of him burning his draft card appeared in many newspapers. The New York Times journalist Harrison Salisbury approached him as he was being arrested in Saigon and told Mark, “This is the best thing anyone could have done.”
After his stay in Vietnam he traveled by foot, boat and bus, guitar in hand, through Laos, Cambodia and Thailand eventually settling in India where he lived for five months. During that stay he became enthralled with the alternative musical scales of Indian music. He discovered that he could not replicate Indian music on his guitar using the twelve-tone musical scale of the Western world. This would remain an interest once he returned home. He returned to the United States when President Carter pardoned conscientious objectors to the Vietnam War.
Once he returned to the U.S.A. he visited nearly every state in the union mimicking Jack Kerouac’s epic journey documented in On the Road which Mark had read while at sea. In Iowa Mark met a musician Tom Stone, who had developed interchangeable fret-boards with staggered frets that enabled one to play alternative musical scales on the guitar. Mark created his own microtonal guitar and then a microtonal banjo, perhaps the first in the world, which expanded the musical possibilities of both instruments. He developed software to generate templates with staggered frets, and distributed kits enabling luthiers to create microtonal guitars.
A recording was made of him singing the traditional American ballad Will the Circle Be Unbroken while accompanying himself on his microtonal banjo. The performance took place in New York City in 1986 at the American Festival of Microtonal Music concert. He maintained contact with national and international microtonal musicians throughout his life.
Mark met his wife Ann in May 1989 at a conference on Polyhedral Forms & Musical Intervals held at the Rim Institute in Northern Arizona. They moved to Northern California in 1991 where they lived fourteen years and created an off-the-grid homestead. After the death of his father, Mark and Ann moved to Taylor’s Island settling on his family’s farm on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. They restored the historical farm house, rehabilitated the fields, and planted 2,000 tree seedlings to slow down the farm’s erosion from the Chesapeake Bay. When Mark’s health began to decline they sold the farm and moved to Easton where he passed away peacefully at home under the care of his wife and Talbot Hospice.