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December 01, 2011

The Oxford American Releases Annual Music Issue With Focus on Mississippi

National magazine returns to its roots for its 20th anniversary year

The Oxford American magazine's 13th annual Southern Music Issue—with 192 pages and a CD with 27 songs featuring music from Mississippi—hits bookstores and newsstands nationwide on Dec. 1.

Inspired by the diversity and depth of the state's musical heritage, the editors of The Oxford American have scoured the Magnolia State and unearthed 27 brilliant Mississippi songs to shake up the thinking (and booties) of its audience.

"The Oxford American's new Music Issue may surprise people who believe that Mississippi boasts only blues music," says Marc Smirnoff, editor of The Oxford American. "Though rightly regarded for its fantastically rich blues heritage, Mississippi can also claim the birthplace of rock 'n' roll (Tupelo, Miss., where Elvis Presley was born) and country (Meridian, Miss., where Jimmie Rodgers, 'The Father of Country Music,' was born). But, of course, even those genres don't cover it all.

"Want funky housewife disco? We've got it. Soul music from an underrated genius? Check. Seventeen-piece all-babe big band? Check. Lonesome Sun Records-approved hillbilly? Check. This year's OA CD includes those sounds, plus: jazz, gospel, New Wave, garage rock, 1950s pop and much more." The music CD will only be available coupled with the print magazine.

Beyond the tunes is the text, and this year's Oxford American Southern Music Issue includes some of the world's most scintillating music writers contributions, including:

PLUS: A special section of The OA featuring lists and musings by a shapely medley of provocateurs, including Roy Blount, Jr., Nick Hornby, and Rosanne Cash, to name just a few.

Furthermore, there is additional exclusive online content by the likes of Greil Marcus, Diane Roberts, and many others—and more free vintage and contemporary music—available at OxfordAmerican.org.

This issue also serves as a 20th anniversary celebration and homecoming of sorts for the national magazine, which was founded in Oxford, Miss., in 1992. Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour will preside over the official launch ceremony for this Southern Music Issue in Oxford on Dec. 7.

This is the third year The Oxford American's award-winning and critically acclaimed Southern Music Issue focuses on the musical heritage of a particular Southern state. (Arkansas and Alabama were featured in the last two editions, respectively.)

In previous years, The Oxford American's Music Issue and CD has generated much praise from the BBC to The New York Times. The Houston Chronicle has called it, "The single best music-related magazine of any given year," while The Boston Globe simply termed it "a welcome fix." Musicians like Dolly Parton, Chris Isaak and Tom Petty have also gone on record to praise it.

The Oxford American's Music Issue and CD is an annual treasure trove for music fanatics who welcome the introductions to lesser-known but fascinating musical artists from the South. It is available for $10.95 at most bookstores and newsstands nationwide, or it can be purchased directly at OxfordAmerican.org.

"I know that The OA has a reputation for finding and celebrating obscure artists," Smirnoff says. "But our trick, really, is that we try to locate heart-breaking, soul-stirring, great music—great music that will contribute to the ultimate Southern-music party mix. The fact that many of these artists are underappreciated just adds to the fun and makes for a double whammy."

Some of the artists featured on this year's OA Mississippi CD are, in fact, well known, like Bo Diddley and Howlin' Wolf, but the vast majority of the artists will likely be new to listeners.

"We don't just want to shovel the expected and over-familiar at our readers. Our readers are smarter than that and demand more from us," says Smirnoff. "They can get the over-familiar elsewhere if they want it. By relying on great obscure music, we get to challenge our audience, which they seem to really love."

Not to be outdone is the award-winning writing in the magazine, which also contributes to the "double whammy" effect, with many of the most heralded and well-respected music writers participating in the project.

This year's Southern Music Issue and CD were made possible through a partnership with the Mississippi Development Authority Tourism Division and The Oxford American will work with the agency to hold events around the state in 2012 to celebrate the musical heritage of Mississippi.

"This tribute by The Oxford American is an excellent way to experience and enjoy the musical legacy of Mississippi," said Sandy Bynum, who manages communications for the Mississippi Development Authority Tourism Division. "Whether a die-hard blues fan or an explorer in search of their True South, this issue will provide facts and sounds that will start them on their musical journey."

The Oxford American's annual Southern Music Issue has won two National Magazine Awards and other high honors since it was first introduced in 1999. It is considered by many readers and listeners to be among the best music packages in the country. Over the years, NPR has featured many of The Oxford American's Southern Music Issues on its broadcasts. The New York Times once wrote, "The Oxford American may be the liveliest literary magazine in America … the CDs are so smart and eclectic they probably belong in the Smithsonian." The Southern Music Issue has showcased both famous and criminally neglected musicians, everyone from R.E.M. to the Gants, Isaac Hayes to Erma Franklin, Lucinda Williams to Karen Dalton, Carl Perkins to the Armstrong Twins, Willie Nelson to Gary Stewart, Jerry Lee Lewis to Nellie Lutcher and more. Such music writing legends as Greil Marcus, William Gay, Stanley Crouch, Peter Guralnick, Steve Martin, Rosanne Cash, Nick Tosches, and Kevin Brockmeier—among many others—have contributed memorable writing to the Southern Music Issues.

About The Oxford American

The Oxford American is a national magazine that is dedicated to featuring the very best in Southern writing while documenting the complexity and vitality of the American South.  Billed as "The Southern Magazine of Good Writing," it has won three National Magazine Awards and other high honors since it began publication in 1992. The magazine has featured the original work of such literary powerhouses as Charles Portis, Roy Blount, Jr., ZZ Packer, Donald Harington, Donna Tartt, Ernest J. Gaines, and many other distinguished authors, while also discovering and launching the most promising writers in the region.  The magazine has also published previously unseen work by such Southern masters as William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, Walker Percy, James Agee, Zora Neale Hurston, James Dickey, Carson McCullers, to name just a handful.

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