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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Many people have the vague idea that Roy Orbison’s life was marked by tragedy, and that was why he hid his eyes behind dark glasses and sang so many songs about crying, feeling afraid, and dreaming of happier times. This actually gets the cause-and-effect sequence of Orbison’s life all wrong. It turns out that he wrote those terribly sad songs first, then he started dressing in black, and only later did his life fall apart.
I was halfway through college in South Florida when somebody burned me a copy of Luck of the Draw, Bonnie Raitt's album released in 1991, by then a decade old. Trying not to disturb my roommates, I lay in bed listening through headphones, taken with how appealing this artist made adulthood sound like she was sure on her feet, felt comfortable in her skin, and actually found it freeing, even fun, to act her age.
That’s why pop music is the art for our time: It’s an art of crap. And not in a self-conscious sense, not like a sculpture made of garbage and shown at the Whitney, which is only a way of saying that "low" materials can be made to serve the demands of "high" art. No, pop music really is crap. It’s about transcending through crap. It’s about standing there with your stupid guitar, and your stupid words, and your stupid band, and not being stupid.
We are saddened to learn of the death of bluegrass legend Dave Evans on Sunday, June 25, 2017. He was sixty-five. Revisit Lee Johnson’s story about Evans from our Fall 2013 issue.
Not long after my friend Pete and I met, he asked if I wanted to go with him to East Kentucky for Dave Evans’s sixtieth birthday party. I didn’t recognize the name at first, but from what Pete told me about the man, it sounded like it would be a great opportunity to play music and really learn from a master.
Notes on the songs from our 20th Southern Music Issue Sampler featuring North Carolina.
The profiles, eulogies, and essays herein boast of remarkable achievements of North Carolina’s musicians across eras and genres: from unassailable legends (High Point’s John Coltrane, Tryon’s Nina Simone, Chapel Hill’s James Taylor) to contemporary masters (Snow Hill’s Rapsody, Jacksonville’s Ryan Adams, Raleigh’s 9th Wonder) to the seen-afresh (Dunn’s Link Wray, Kannapolis’s George Clinton, Winston-Salem’s dB’s, Charlotte’s Jodeci)—and, of course, the often-overlooked and in-between (Winston-Salem’s Wesley Johnson, Morganton’s Etta Baker, Chapel Hill’s Liquid Pleasure, Kinston’s Nathaniel Jones, Black Mountain’s period of hosting John Cage).
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.
An introduction to the Music Issue’s Icons Section
Beyond my eye, beyond the death and decay of matters left behind and unsettled, the music ringing up above my head told a thousand stories of bounty and belonging, and it glimmered in the light.
I was twenty-three and had been working at WDIA for one year, as long as the station had been on the air. Unexpectedly, Bert asked me to move a little closer to him on the seat. I edged over and waited but he didn’t speak. After a long moment he whispered, just loud enough for me to hear, “What do you think of programming for Negro people?”
Watching Bussard listen to records is a spiritually rousing experience. He often appears incapable of physically restraining himself, as if the melody were a call to arms, an incitement it would be immoral if not impossible to ignore: he has to move.