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The Oxford American’s 22nd Annual 
Southern Music Issue

Guest edited by
BRITTANY HOWARD

 

Order your copy today.

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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November 21, 2017

In 1892, Mildred wrote an article titled “Negro Music” for Music, a Chicago journal. She used the pseudonym Johann Tonsor because she was worried that her ideas wouldn’t be taken seriously if readers knew she was a woman. Two decades before the appearance of jazz, she claimed that the African-American sound would be the basis of American music in the next century. Mildred, who died in 1916, had no idea that one of her own African-American-influenced tunes would become an enduring part of popular culture. 

November 21, 2017

A Freakwater song works something like this. Irwin starts singing over a bass and guitar. Bean comes in after a few bars, accompanied by violin or pedal steel. They trade lines back and forth, then converge into stacked harmonies in which Irwin’s low earthy timbre finds a counterpoint in Bean’s airy alto. It’s those two perfectly paired voices that keep you from drowning in what the songs are actually about.

November 21, 2017

It was 1995, the year Joan Osborne’s “One of Us” was released, the end of my eighth-grade year, in rural Kentucky where homophobia was—and continues to be—rampant. My secret boyfriend and I—the one I had kissed in darkened classrooms after Science Olympiad practice, his blond scruff chafing my freshly shaved cheeks—had broken up. We were bullied and threatened in the hallways at school, and gossiped about when we passed notes between classes and had lunch together. I ache for those two boys now, for the normal acne-scarred romance they were never allowed to have.

November 21, 2017

A few seconds in, there came this sound. It filled the song and then it filled the room I was listening in. What was that? Like a fiercely shaken box of tacks. Like wind rattling dry leaves on a tree. But not either of those. Comparisons couldn’t capture it.

November 21, 2017

Three poems from our Kentucky Music Issue. 

Until the nameless traveler learns in terror 
His lidless eyes are open targets— 
Where sudden night flings in her quiet spear. 

 

February 03, 2016

A conversation with Chris Offutt. 

This objectivity created distance in myself from everything—a distance from my own existence—which was essential in order to confront this material every day, the constant barrage of pornographic depictions.

July 08, 2016

A conversation with Manuel Gonzales.

“Magical and fantastical is what I grew up on—that and horror and the science-fictional and the soap operatic worlds of comic books—and to me it feels like a natural mode of telling a story. You learn about a character by watching him or her run the gauntlet of some horror show or run through some lengthy, fraught journey filled with monsters and magic and pitfalls.”

October 18, 2018

An installment in our weekly series, The By and By. 

I listened to “Just Like You” by Keb’ Mo’ over and over again the same way I did when I was working at a coffee shop when I was in college. Keb’ is singing, “I feel just like you and I cry just like you and I heal just like you and I break down just like you,” and I'm wondering if people would actually live their lives differently if they listened to that song every morning before they went out into the world or interacted with other people.

August 16, 2018

An installment in our weekly series, The By and By. 

From the moment I heard the song, the repetition of “more time, more time” got stuck in my head—as I was washing my face at night, as we were driving home, as I was unpacking. I listened to the song over and over again the way I always listen to Justin Vernon’s music, attempting to decode the lyrics and to let his voice ribbon through the quiet spaces.

July 12, 2018

An installment in our weekly series, The By and By. 

In the spring and summer, I make a habit of sitting on our deck in the mornings and as far into the afternoons as the Kentucky sun, heat, humidity, allergies, and mosquitoes allow. I also like to sit up in the treehouse in our yard that my husband built for our children—but he and I love and use it too—with my books and my fizzy strawberry pop.