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.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on all things OA.
They were part of a dying tradition: musicians from the community playing functional music for social dances, not to make a living but because that’s simply what they did. They were also among the last living links to a vast black string band tradition that used to be spread all over the South and other parts of the U.S. but had slowly disappeared until very few were left. And they were swallowed up by the wider societal notion that fiddle and banjo music was strictly a white preserve.
An installment in our weekly series, The By and By.
Since 2001 Christopher Sims has been “investigating, with a profound and insistent curiosity, American military ventures from the perspective of the home front.” For ten years Sims photographed staged Iraqi and Afghan villages on the training grounds of U.S. Army bases deep in the forests of North Carolina and Louisiana.
A feature short story from the 100th issue.
When the real estate agent first drove us up the gravel driveway, I felt I’d been to this place before. I wasn’t sure at first, for I’d first been there at night. Over fifteen years before. A dinner of academics after a lecture at UNC on Southern food. I was still living in New York then, and found the idea of owning a two-hundred-four-year-old restored farmhouse out in the middle of nowhere surrounded by cornfields to be the height of fancy. Nothing in my future. Much too Town & Country for my tastes. Back then I fully expected to die on the twenty-first floor of a high-rise in the middle of some urban engine. How odd.
Mentor to Alice Gerrard, beacon to all of us North Carolina folkie wannabes, revered by those of us with any musical knowledge, and—music’s highest compliment—sung by many of us who don’t know how we know the words. This Chapel Hill woman is the very heart of what we call Piedmont blues.
A Southern Journey from the Summer 2019 issue.
I am angry. I am sad. I cry. I shout. I don’t understand. I am good about not expressing any of it with the van, especially when I have my daughters with me. I’m a model driver—no, please, you first! But when I’m alone I listen to the sound of a head exploding and, by some magic of sympathetic resonance, I experience the relief of it for myself. I know what it feels like when the pressure valve works, briefly.
If I’d been asked, I might’ve said I was held hostage, and truthfully I kind of was. Platt sang and her voice sank its claws into me and I didn’t move. One song bled into the next and I sat there until she was finished. I would’ve sat there for days if she’d kept singing. When the show was over, I pulled out what little money was in my wallet and shoved those crumpled bills in a jar by the stage for the only album the Honeycutters had at the time, a record called Irene. I played that record on a loop for months.
For three over-warm days in late May, Allan Gurganus welcomed me to his home to hold forth on his life and art, and on the imminent publication of Local Souls, about the invented town of Falls, North Carolina, population 6,803. An ordinary place of extraordinary people, Falls appears in nearly all of Gurganus’s fiction—“an inexhaustible resource,” he calls it, a town he knows with such kissing intimacy he can amble in it block by block and tell you how many cracks the sidewalks have.
Sun Ra—master jazz pianist, composer, visionary, and astral traveler—is why many jazz listeners entered the Space Age before there was a Space Age. And June Tyson gives vibrational birth to Sun Ra’s visions.