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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Short fiction by Glenn Taylor from our Spring 2017 issue.
I knew something was amiss when I began to see men and women on the street as trees. Their arms were branches and their fingers twigs. Some were sprouting little green buds that looked like lima bean fingernails. Every shoestring was a rat snake. Every breast an eggplant, every swinging dick a banana.
She watched the Kitler closely, but it mostly slept, waking only when she played the Police’s “Message in a Bottle” while making her morning coffee. When Sting got to the part about sending out an SOS, it lifted its furry head, twitched its ears, and stared plaintively, ready to help.
A Points South essay from the Fall 2018 issue
For the past year, five Vanderbilt researchers and historians, myself included, have collected oral histories related to this site—a Union fort largely built by enslaved and free African Americans, many of whom died during its construction. We’d gathered the stories of descendants of the laborers who built the fort and the soldiers who protected it. That Saturday, we’d unveil our work, though unveil felt like a grand word for what we’d amassed—largely two fifteen-minute video interviews. But there it was, printed just beside our project’s name on the event poster. FORT NEGLEY DESCENDENTS PROJECT: NASHVILLE'S BLACK LEGACIES OF THE CIVIL WAR. The name is clunky, a little wordy. But it has to hold so much.
A Points South essay from the North Carolina Music Issue.
The songs I heard growing up, sung at family gatherings, and later as I documented music in recordings at Lumbee churches, ring with longing and sometimes nostalgia. They were standard Protestant hymns, Southern gospel tunes, or shape-note classics, straight from the Broadman hymnal or from J. D. Sumner or the Gaither family: “I Feel Like Traveling Home,” “Hard Working Pilgrim,” “I Am His,” dozens more. The talented ones in my family often learned them not by reading the music but playing by ear, molding and adapting the arrangement and harmonies to suit our preference. Not so much the songs themselves, but the way we sing, especially the emphasis on harmony and blend—the need for every person to have a part but no one to stand out—is what demonstrates our togetherness and uniqueness.
A Points South essay from the Summer 2019 issue
As an evangelist, I have showed “Miracles” to many people by lying about what it’s actually about. Generally, I describe it as a sort of joke, a curiosity. I don’t tell folks that when I first heard Frierson sing about being “only human” I was lonely and confused, and I listened to it so much that the music morphed into a personal manifesto about redemption, as if he had boiled down the obsessive and impossible task of purity into a formula. On first listen, how I feel about “Miracles” would seem ridiculous.
A story from the Fall 2019 issue
And that was the day she invented it, this particular glazed expression of hers. She had created it to please her father, but it had served her well in her life. When she wore it, most men thought she was listening to them, and most women knew that the conversation was over.
A Points South essay from the South Carolina Music Issue.
Lillie’s sound is not readily identifiable as black or white but seems a merger of the two as she effortlessly blends country and blues in a haunting song about family loss. Noticeably absent is the Gullah Geechee accent, and she finds little use for vibrato. Instead, a pure, unadorned, angelic quality characterizes her soprano. Such simplicity proves effective in conveying Lillie’s innermost thoughts—her pain.
A short story from the Spring 2020 issue
I tell him goodbye and go wander around the beauty section in Dillard’s. I find the perfume like what I’m wearing on display and I spray some more on. I find a new color of Estée Lauder lipstick that I like and put that on too. It’s called “Bold Innocent.” A woman behind the counter with shiny skin tells me how pretty my complexion is. She wants to give me a free beauty consultation, but I tell her I’m shy and walk away. I don’t like strangers to touch me.