This year we’ve compiled our “greatest hits,” including selections of the most beloved music writing from our archive—guest edited by Brittany Howard, the Grammy Award-winning singer, songwriter, and frontwoman of the Alabama Shakes. This jam-packed issue also includes new essays on iconic Southern artists who have changed the trajectory of American music.
Rather than including a CD this year, we’ve asked guest contributors to curate a selection of playlists that limn the bounty of Southern music across genres. These are available to stream on Spotify.
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Little Richard, now eighty-two years old, has reportedly been living the last several years in a penthouse suite at the Hilton hotel in downtown Nashville (the Hilton will neither confirm nor deny that they have a guest named Mr. Penniman). I knew someone who knew someone who had his cell phone number, and in June, I cold-called him.
Last winter, the metal band Black Tusk went on a six-week tour of Europe, where they’ve established a strong following over the past decade. As most any band would today, they shared a candid visual diary on social media. But the trio’s followers on Facebook and Instagram (there are more than 54,000 of them) weren’t just seeing the expected performance photos, landscape shots, party pics, and show promos. Black Tusk had a mission abroad, which they christened #ripathon.
I had this idea that I could arrive in Macon, Georgia, via rental sedan, nose around for a day or two, and figure something out about the South, and rock music in the South, and men in the South, and men, and death, and guitars, and the Allman Brothers Band, who, in the late 1960s, engineered a new style of rock music that was deeply and earnestly influenced by rhythm & blues but also by something else—some wildness I couldn’t isolate or define or deny.
I don’t know if the term “Cosmic Southerner” is something I came up with or if I read it somewhere or heard someone say it, but it’s an idea I’ve carried with me for a long time. Pharoah Sanders, André 3000, and Benjamin from the band Smoke are true Cosmic Southerners. Atlanta’s Col. Bruce Hampton is another.
At forty-three, Rico Wade’s still got something to prove. Most people with music industry aspirations find a way to build a business. Rico built a family instead. Then he discovered why family and business rarely mix. But when your past is OutKast and your present is a rapper named Future, it ain’t over till the last ATLien sings.
Jazz owes its origins to the bump and grind of turn-of-the-century brothels and the colored waif orphanages of the South’s great cities, but where is the wellspring of swing? Swing, children, begins with Fletcher Henderson, one of the great big band leaders for the ages.
Twelve years ago, the historical reissue label Dust-to-Digital released a six-disc masterpiece of early spiritual recordings called Goodbye, Babylon. Lance Ledbetter, who runs the Atlanta record company with his wife, April, is working on another project that will match Goodbye, Babylon in size and scope. That is, if they can finish it.