One of my tasks as curator of the Alan Lomax Archive is to manage its YouTube channel. Several years ago, I noticed a particular strain of commentary recurring on the five clips that compose the recorded output of an utterly obscure and equally affecting singer-guitarist named Belton Sutherland, whom Lomax met in rural Madison County, Mississippi, in 1978.
A Points South essay from the Kentucky Music Issue.
Over Labor Day weekend last year I called a distant cousin, Mitch Cundiff, to ask if he could take me to Paradise. The old town is just a few miles from his home in Muhlenberg County, Kentucky, where my grandmother grew up. He told me he was happy to, but there was nothing there to see. “It’s like the John Prine song says,” he explained. “They hauled it away.”
A Points South essay from the 100th issue.
He used “Niggertown” to make the hearer reconcile the word with the man using it: Lolis Edward Elie, this civil rights lawyer, this man of letters, this collector of fine art and old jazz records, this gourmand, this voracious reader of smart books and drinker of cold Champagne. He could easily have erased the old neighborhood from his biography. But what would be the fun in that? For my father, life began, and would always begin, in Niggertown.
A Points South essay from the North Carolina Music Issue.
As deeply in love as I was with blaring guitars, exploding amps, and metallic raving, I’d also been listening to James Taylor’s more intimate style of music since his first album, James Taylor, came out in 1969, issued by Apple Records, the Beatles’ label. I owned a prized 45 of the original (and still my favorite) version of “Carolina in My Mind,” the song on which Paul McCartney and George Harrison (“the holy host of others standing ’round”) played bass and sang harmony. “I was homesick when I wrote it,” Taylor has said of the tune that he composed in London. That number made even us sixth-graders at Glenwood Elementary indulge in a kind of premature nostalgia. Kids we might have been, but we too could hear the “highway call”; we too could see those “geese in flight and dogs that bite.” The lyrics and melody induced in us an aching yet pleasurable homesickness for the place from which we hadn’t yet departed.
The lounge’s changes reflect those of Trenton, which has been hit by deindustrialization, white flight, falling property values, a cratering tax base, budget cuts, and a drop in educational resources. There is probably a recovery formula for the rest of the city somewhere in the tiny fragment of an integrated, prospering populace that materializes for the Candlelight Saturday Sabbath with its transubstantiation of mouthpiece, breath, drum skin, string, and inner ear stereocilia into camaraderie.
The year before Paul MacLeod, the owner of Graceland Too, died of natural causes on his porch just two days after he shot and killed a local house painter, I drove my partner, Mesha, down South so that she could experience Paul’s museum firsthand.
A Points South essay from the South Carolina Music Issue.
Men and women—sometimes pairing off, sometimes dancing alone—cluster in the center of the club, lightly prancing just off their heels. In unison, the dancers then form a circle, shifting to the side counterclockwise from time to time, giving each other just enough space to continue moving their feet and legs. At times, they wind their bodies in place, moving unpredictably like twisting leaves in the wind. Whether they know it or not, for a moment or two, the dancers are linked back to their ancestors in coastal South Carolina in the previous century and, further back, in West Africa, also dancing—for tradition, for religious beliefs, for sheer joy.
A poem from our summer 2013 issue.
is what she said, but what mattered was the tone—
not a drive-by spondee and never the fricative
connotation as verb, but from her mouth
voweled, often preceeded by well, with the “u” low
as if dipping up homemade ice cream, waiting to be served
last so that she’d scoop from the bottom
where all the good stuff had settled down.