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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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October 02, 2014

I had less than a minute, and King was tired. He had no need to be messing around with someone like me, there was nothing I could give him, but he was gracious and I was grateful for the chance to shake his hand.

February 02, 2016

From the beginning of Sam & Dave’s career, Sam’s otherworldly high tenor overshadowed Dave’s low harmony, and for a variety of reasons—some personal, some practical, some musical—the history of the duo has been rewritten in the nearly thirty years since Prater’s death so as to diminish Dave’s contributions.

November 21, 2016

The story Bassekou Kouyaté wants to tell is simply this: it was cotton that brought the blues from Mali to America, and it was the ngoni—the West African lute that is a predecessor to the banjo—that brought the songs. Kouyaté would like to make a film about this story—one told, for a change, from an African perspective.

November 19, 2019

A Points South essay from the South Carolina Music Issue.

Blood’s Harmolodics puts “the cry” front and center. The cry is the aural exposition of the paradoxical mode of existence that forced the musical innovations made by Africans in America. Born of forced migration, it harkens to an Africa that exists only in the minds of its long-exiled American children.

October 08, 2018

A feature essay from the Fall 2018 issue.

Prine radiates a sense of well-being, along with a sort of amused nonchalance toward potential disaster. This is a good thing, because the Coupe, as it turns out, has no passenger-side safety belt. Or rather it has the shoulder belt, but the thing on the seat into which it is supposed to latch is missing. I noticed this awhile back, and it worried me for a few minutes. But then I thought, If you’re going to buy the farm it might as well be in a ’77 Coupe de Ville with John Prine.

November 10, 2020

An essay from the Greatest Hits Music Issue

Great Black music is that which isn’t trying to impress or entreat or even necessarily communicate with a white audience—or any audience. Instead, great Black music works to retrieve what Rahsaan Roland Kirk called the missing Black notes: the sounds and calls and rhythms and cries that colonizing languages submerge, reconstituted of the very lexicons that would have liked them to vanish from sound and memory. 

April 20, 2015

I don’t know when I first heard the music in my head. I don’t remember not hearing it. Sometimes in the morning it would be the first thing I heard, shutting out the sounds of reality—the traffic outside the window and the people moving around. My mother would sit at the upright piano, playing and singing song after song off old pieces of sheet music from her past. I searched these songs for meaning. Like the cowboy songs of Gene Autry and Red River Dave, each song told a story of a remote place and time.

November 19, 2019

A Points South essay from the South Carolina Music Issue.

All of Bill’s anecdotes about Diz played to this theme: here was a man, a titan of American music, whose genius helped revolutionize jazz in the forties, opening the door for its great modern period—the pre-birth of cool!—and yet who carried a “personality of warmth and openness and friendliness everywhere, with whoever he was dealing with,” Bill said. “That side of him was something that I remember as strongly as I remember his musical force and power and creativity.”

November 10, 2020

An essay from the Greatest Hits Music Issue

The first songs that I listened to by Talibah Safiya had this soft, sweet, plaintive quality. There is something else underneath if you listen a bit closer: a little loneliness. The knowledge that this sweetness is fleeting. Even though these first songs that I listened to maybe didn’t sound like the blues (one streaming platform calls the tunes Millennial Jazz), the blues was certainly riding under the skirt of that sweetness.

December 01, 2013
There is a remarkable story tucked halfway through Bessie, Chris Albertson’s biography of the blues singer Bessie Smith, in which Smith approaches a circle of robed North Carolina Klansmen, places one hand on her hip, and begins shaking the other in the air. She hollers obscenities at the men until “they finally turned and disappeared quietly into the darkness.” This is the sort of tale that stinks of apocrypha, but is nonetheless a useful encapsulation of Smith’s particular prowess: shouting darkness into darkness.