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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When Prince sang “Soft and Wet” from a 45 on my record player, the lyrics were hidden beneath the funky beat. My grandparents never knew what I was listening to. Prince and his doe eyes and big Afro and glistening lean body stared back at me from the pages of Right On! magazine. We lived far out into the woods, on a gravel road. My grandparents were farmers. Books and magazines and television told me that normal black girls did not live like this. But I did. Prince was the sex I knew nothing about. Prince sealed my fantasies about a larger world.
By early summer, Houston is so muggy that all the edges blur. Temperatures slink into the low 90s and stay there. In certain neighborhoods, the smell of weed lingers, lending the air a permanent tang. Slabs, creeping slowly down the street, broadcast a sound indigenous to the city, a sluggish hazy rhythm that couldn’t have been born in any other town.
An Omnivore essay from the Spring 2019 issue.
Due to his health, Leon Redbone can no longer be interviewed. In a way, he’s become a version of the old-time musicians he so admired, about whom little is known: You can only reach them through recordings, archival materials, and the accounts of other people. Longtime friends and band members tell me they knew never to ask about his past. Others say they were sworn to secrecy, and intend to keep the secrets. His own family members say they know little about his early life.
An exclusive premiere from Rachel Grimes’s new album, The Way Forth.
During the emotional process of moving her parents into nursing homes some years back, Grimes and her brother became the executors of a scattershot archive of family photos, papers, and ephemera. The elisions and erasures of the past gathered poignantly in Grimes’s mind on the repeated drives along the Kentucky River between her farm and her father’s home. Rural Kentucky is endlessly evocative to Grimes, and the bucolic is a rhizome that threads throughout her work.
A feature essay from the South Carolina Music Issue.
Outside of his studies, Ron joined, and eventually presided over, the A&T karate club, and still made time to stay sharp on his saxophone. “People talk about born geniuses, but I always thought of Ron as a self-made genius,” recalled Ron’s college roommate, Keenan Sarratt. “He got his through hard work. That’s one thing I learned from him—nothing’s impossible. If it couldn’t be done, you’d have to convince him it couldn’t be done.”
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.
An essay from the Greatest Hits Music Issue
If my dad’s career trajectory seemed unlikely, that paled in comparison to the odds of such a thing occurring at all in a small dry county in the Bible Belt. That so many of the most beloved soul hits of the civil rights era came from an integrated group of players just two hours north of Birmingham, where firehoses and police dogs were used against King’s marchers, is the kind of plot that’s too far-fetched for fiction and too unbelievable to be told without corresponding proof.
An interview with Amanda Shires.
I was trying to be on my own in Lubbock, playing my own songs, but I guess people didn’t see me like that. It was my fault, because I had to pay my rent, so I was still taking sideperson work, which kept me from being known as just that. I had written some songs with Thrift Store, but it was never an idea that I could do it on my own, solo, until Billy Joe told me to. He even said, “There’s no loyalty in side work. This week, fiddle is cool, but next week, it might be a dobro, and then where will you be?”
Around two thousand years ago a woman died in Greek-speaking Asia Minor, near the ancient city of Aydin, in what is now Turkey. Her name was Euterpe, after the muse of music. Her husband or son, Seikilos—his relationship to Euterpe depends on how you read a gap in the dedication line—commissioned a stele, a stone memorial, which bore the following words, etched in Greek: “I am a tombstone, an image. Seikilos placed me here as an everlasting sign of deathless remembrance.”