Notes on the songs from our 21st Southern Music Issue Sampler featuring South Carolina.
It is fitting that this Southern Music Issue (the Oxford American’s twenty-first) devoted to South Carolina should come in 2019, as the nation moves to better recognize the tragic anniversary of the first sale of enslaved Africans on American soil, in August of 1619. About forty percent of the enslaved people brought to America came through Charleston; today most African Americans have roots in the city (some estimates go as high as eighty percent). Or to put a finer point on it, as Joshunda Sanders writes in this issue, “No Black person has a family tree that has not been pruned by slavery.” Acknowledging, parsing, and reckoning with this history is the prominent theme of this South Carolina music issue—as is celebrating the immense wealth of cultural heritage that has sprung from this small, proud place.
Track 21 – “Keep Your Eyes on the Prize” by Alice Wine
“I know a different echo to that,” she said, and proceeded to sing a version of “Hold On,” delivered without accompaniment, in hushed intonations, the refrain “keep your hand on the plow, hold on” replaced, after one verse, by words that are not found in any transcriptions of the song previously cataloged by folklorists: “keep your eyes on the prize, hold on.”