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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 10, 2020

Originally published in our 1993 Music Issue 

Long before any R.E.M. albums went gold or platinum, the band’s omnipresence on the college scene made them as much an oppressive force in bookworm circles as the “mainstream” music they were supposed to be an “alternative” from was to the rest of the world. 

January 06, 2014

Tara’s confession to Charlie Rich, a major country star that year, was among forty-two others I discovered in the home of a woman who produced Rich in the 1960s. Unread for nearly forty years, mixed in with yellowing newspaper clips and old drink coasters from a Las Vegas revue, they were the last known remnants of the Charlie Rich Fan Club. Variously handwritten, typed up, set on stationery and notebook paper, the stash contained the intimate pleas and declarations of fans who sought communion with the star known as “The Silver Fox.”

May 17, 2016

“I should have put a stop to that craftsman shit a long time ago,” Guy Clark says. “It makes my skin crawl. It’s nobody’s fault but mine because I didn’t step up and say, ‘No, that’s not right.’ I consider what I do poetry. I don’t need to prove I’m a poet in every line and I’m not afraid to speak plainly in my songs. Not everything needs to be a metaphor and I don’t need lofty words. But it is my obligation as a poet to be faithful to the verse. I write what I know. I write what I see.”

October 29, 2015

“They all seemed together by ear,” according to Nancy Blake. “It was the first time I’d ever seen hillbilly string musicians hit that Charles Mingus headspace. I knew there was music coming into the world that had never been in it before.”

December 31, 2015

We can imagine a fantastical world where time travel is possible, yet we cannot conceive of any point in the past, or even the future, where black people can live free. Into this grim possibility arrives Janelle Monáe.

January 26, 2017

A story from our 18th Southern Music Issue: Visions of the Blues.

All day long the song has kept him thinking, a few clumsy lines scribbled on hotel stationery like black rivers rushing across the page. What imposters his words are. Music pays him to be. Music plays him to be. He sets the pen down on the table and tears off another chunk of hash. Having spent the better part of the day doing just this. See, the beautiful dried hashish in his hand. He puts it in the tall dazzling bong and lights it. Those sharing the table with him inside the café take turns, lips pressed against the long tilted rim of the pipe, then an intake of smoke, causing the bowl to start gurgling. Lazy smoke hovering about the room like gray birds. Four of them sitting at a round table with a mosaic top and heavy iron legs. His skull is filled with feathers, little sleep last night, but he swears that when he finishes this song, this moment will be in it. All of Tangier.

November 19, 2019

A Points South essay from the South Carolina Music Issue.

Esquerita and Little Richard stayed in touch as friends, collaborators, and rivals until 1986, when Little Richard was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Esquerita died, a victim of AIDS who was buried in an unmarked grave on Hart Island, New York. Their careers had mirrored each other over rock & roll’s first thirty years, playing out the dualities of the sacred and the profane, music and money, and God and the Voola, what Esquerita called his mojo, the spirit that motivated his music. 

November 10, 2020

Originally published in our 2001 Music Issue 

“One night we were at the house getting ready to go to a concert later that evening, and it was just pouring down with rain, and thunder was cracking,” Peebles told the Memphis Flyer in 1994. “All of a sudden I popped up and said, ‘Man, I can’t stand the rain.’ And Don looked at me and said, ‘Ooh, that’s a good song title!’”

February 11, 2014

A writer's obsession with John Keats and the Beatles.

December 18, 2013

One Sunday night a month, around 8:30 P.M., or whenever the long, narrow, art-bedecked space of Canvas Lounge finally fills with revelers, the strains of “Let There Be Praise,” sung by Sandi Patty, the ’80s- and early ’90s-ruling inspirational star with two first names, come through the P.A. With the final perky, theatrical note still ringing in the air, the bar’s proprietor, playing the part of Pastor Peter in plaid polyester shorts hiked up to his ribcage and anchored there by a wide white belt, grabs a microphone from the deejay booth and introduces the Dickson Chicks: Marlene, Carlene, and Darlene.