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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The pain in my midsection felt like a dull routine by the time I came across the Vintage brass Made in India red and white mother of pearl bracelet, a pretty little scallop-edged bangle that caught my eye as I was idly scrolling around on eBay. There was something charismatic about it, winking out from its dark tiny cell of a thumbnail photo. It seemed to appeal to me personally, like a particular kitten or puppy at the pound who makes eye contact. It gave me déjà vu, reminded me of some dim, distant place I couldn’t quite identify.
The Thomas Wolfe Memorial does not move us to think about the creative spirit so much as it moves us to think about everyday life. Cleave it from its ties to literary celebrity and it becomes replete in and of itself: Come see how, in a certain place at a certain time, some people lived, and some made a living.
Algia Mae Hinton, the great blues guitarist and banjo picker, lives in Johnston County, North Carolina. It’s a short drive from Raleigh and Durham but feels rather far from those cities, with their food trucks and breweries and warehouses refitted as condos—the latest iteration of the New South, one might say, except one finds the same pattern in Brooklyn or the Bay Area. In Johnston County you drift back to an earlier era.
Wendy Brenner’s classic 2005 profile of snake enthusiast Dean Ripa, who died Saturday.
By now I’ve grown accustomed (and rather devoted) to Dean’s rhetorical style—outrageous overstatement, subsequent qualification—but I think I recognize something else, something authentic here: a certain strain of introverted misanthropy that often leads people to commit their lives to animals, something I think I know about from my family. Introverts and loners love animals. It runs the spectrum, I think, from my father’s boyhood shyness to full-fledged autism—Temple Grandin and all those like her who understand animals better than people. Whether it’s a quirk of personality or a genuine disorder, it’s a trait I find familiar and strangely comforting.
A Points South essay from the North Carolina Music Issue.
Shortly after publishing the biography John Coltrane: His Life and Music, Lewis Porter received a letter from a man who identified himself as a Coltrane. Only not, presumably, one related to the great jazz musician. His ancestors had been white farmers in North Carolina. “He said, ‘I’ve been looking into my family history,’” Porter recalled recently, “‘and I have here a bill of sale that could be interesting.’”
I believe that finding one’s place in the world is every individual’s most challenging question. It comes easy to some, but for many others finding that spot requires much groveling and hunting to get there. I have always fallen in with the groveling crowd.
A Points South essay from the North Carolina Music issue.
My hometown is just over an hour from Myrtle Beach, and so it was not unusual for people to make the pilgrimage to the Pad or the Spanish Galleon or Fat Harold’s on Ocean Drive to hear bands like the Embers, the Tams, Chairmen of the Board. I had heard the songs and the names of all the bands long before I was old enough to go. I have a vivid memory of a teenager in the neighborhood, her hair rolled on jumbo orange-juice cans while she danced around barefooted in pedal pushers and a cropped eyelet top, playing Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs’ “May I” over and over again.
Celebrating the idiosyncratic genius of Thelonious Monk, born in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, on October 10, 1917.
In a remarkable 1963 appearance with Juilliard professor and friend, Hall Overton, at the New School in New York, Monk demonstrated his technique of “bending” or “curving” notes on the piano, the most rigidly tempered of instruments. He drawled notes like a human voice and blended them (playing notes C and C-sharp at the same time, for example) to create his own dialect. Overton told the audience, “That can’t be done on piano, but you just heard it.” He then explained that Monk achieved it by adjusting his finger pressure on the keys, the way baseball pitchers do to make a ball’s path bend, curve, or dip in flight.
A Points South essay from the Spring 2019 issue
My family has laid claim to a variety of nationalities and regional affiliations, yet there are still questions I reflect on from time to time regarding my own claim to my current home. Am I a Southerner, and do I have a right to call myself a Southerner? Will others recognize me as a Southerner, despite my lack of accent and because of my Asian face? And what does it mean to take on this identity—what does it mean for me to claim Dixie?
A Points South essay from the Spring 2020 issue
When we weren’t whizzing through intersections, I was trying to read road signs, thinking that their letters, dimly lit by our headlights, would give me some kind of orientation on this ground, relative to other places I knew. The signs were not helpful; this was ground you had to feel to know. I don’t think I could find it again.