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The Oxford American’s 22nd Annual 
Southern Music Issue

Guest edited by
BRITTANY HOWARD

 

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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 19, 2019

A Points South essay from the South Carolina Music Issue.

We call it the Stono Rebellion because it started in a plantation district (a “general area of settlement,” in one scholar’s suitably vague phrase) known as Stono, which had taken its name from the river that ran near it, the Stono River, which had taken its name from a Native American tribe, the Stono or Stonoe or Stonowe, who when Carolina was founded in 1663 were settled close to Charles Town. By one of those dark coincidences history delights in, the Stono themselves are remembered principally (almost entirely) for having started an uprising against the colony.

November 10, 2020

Originally published in our 2011 Music Issue 

Now, I wonder, is the song about a smokestack, a place, a woman, or a state of mind? “Whoa oh tell me, baby / Where did ya stay last night?” The phrases seemed to collide, creating tension essential to the blues shaped around the timbre of Howlin’ Wolf’s voice, which perhaps echoed the familiar robust presence of a deacon I’d heard at church.

August 05, 2013

“Before, you said my songs were ‘intensely moral,’” he says. “It took me off guard. And it’s the same thing with my sound—I don’t sit down to write a moral song, and I don’t sit down to write a country song; these things just happen.”

January 15, 2015

The amount of blood pooled up on the Deep Ellum street that evening in March 1931 shocked even those city folk who labored with pig stickers and hooks at the Dallas stockyards. A drunk man bleeds faster, more voluminously, than a sober one, and the heat radiating from the earth that Saturday would have hurried along the lifeblood—an unfortunate confluence of factors.

December 08, 2015

An introduction to “Athens x Athens,” a special section in our Georgia Music Issue about the famous scene.

December 14, 2016

The most familiar Mississippi blues story starts in the Delta, where African-rooted field hollers evolved into haunted guitar masterpieces that traveled to Chicago and became the electric core of rock & roll. But there are lots of other stories, and this one is blue in another way. It is about the songs of the lowdown characters who ruled the lumber and levee camps, the honky-tonks and jukes, from the Gulf Coast to Memphis. And about the dozens, which has carried their tradition into the twenty-first century.

January 21, 2017

One of my tasks as curator of the Alan Lomax Archive is to manage its YouTube channel. Several years ago, I noticed a particular strain of commentary recurring on the five clips that compose the recorded output of an utterly obscure and equally affecting singer-guitarist named Belton Sutherland, whom Lomax met in rural Madison County, Mississippi, in 1978.

December 22, 2013

Right after my ninth birthday, Daddy had a tantrum that made him punch a hole in the wall, his right hand break, and his secretary walk out. That made him punch the wall with his left hand and break that one too, and that was how I ended up Daddy's secretary summer before fourth grade. We worked from home, in an office that Little Steve the Child Molester built in exchange for services rendered. The office window looked out into dry yellow field, and on the far side of the field was our cow pond and Daddy's burn pile.

July 14, 2015

The year before Paul MacLeod, the owner of Graceland Too, died of natural causes on his porch just two days after he shot and killed a local house painter, I drove my partner, Mesha, down South so that she could experience Paul’s museum firsthand.

November 19, 2019

A Points South essay from the South Carolina Music Issue.

Men and women—sometimes pairing off, sometimes dancing alone—cluster in the center of the club, lightly prancing just off their heels. In unison, the dancers then form a circle, shifting to the side counterclockwise from time to time, giving each other just enough space to continue moving their feet and legs. At times, they wind their bodies in place, moving unpredictably like twisting leaves in the wind. Whether they know it or not, for a moment or two, the dancers are linked back to their ancestors in coastal South Carolina in the previous century and, further back, in West Africa, also dancing—for tradition, for religious beliefs, for sheer joy.