November 20, 2018

A Points South essay from the North Carolina Music Issue. 

Growing up, Taj encountered a music that sounded like it was “disappearing.” “It was black music, but it was also country music. It turned out to be this fingerpicking that gave me a feeling of being connected to an older style of music that I assumed was African, though I didn’t know.” I said that might be the truest definition of the Piedmont blues I’d ever heard. “It was that little . . . somethin’-somethin’,” Taj said. “I didn’t have no ‘ethnomusicological’ term for it. My name for it was stumblepicking.” Stumblepicking? “Meaning,” he said, “you’re kinda stumbling over the notes to make them. That chord of Etta Baker’s on ‘Railroad Bill,’ it was like an E7 going into an F but it doesn’t stay there. It moves. It jars you. I found something close to it by accident once, and I could probably spend my whole life trying to find it again.” 

November 20, 2018

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. 

November 20, 2018

A Points South essay from the North Carolina Music Issue.

The first person I saw when I walked into Bright Lady Studios in Raleigh on a Monday evening this past July was a young man sitting at a desk, his eyes locked on a laptop screen, his hands hovering over a Maschine controller. Vohn Beatz, son of legendary producer S1, nodded as I passed, then immediately returned to the music he was working on. I entered the studio lounge and there sat rapper Reuben Vincent, a young protégé of Jamla Records who dropped his debut album, Myers Park (named after his Charlotte high school), in 2017. I heard voices down the hall and followed them into the recording room, where I found Soul Council producer Kash talking with Tia Watlington, Jamla’s director of product management, and songstress Heather Victoria about Heather’s new single “Japan.” I knew that this was just a taste of what any given day is like at Bright Lady—young artists honing their craft, label mates planning the next release, or your favorite artist in town looking for that signature sound for their new project. Anything is possible at the business and recording home of Grammy-winning producer and Jamla label head 9th Wonder. 

November 20, 2018

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.

November 20, 2018

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.’” 

September 04, 2018

An installment in John T. Edge’s Points South column, Local Fare.

Time at Helen’s raises questions, small and large. Other than great barbecue, and my respect and affection for the woman who owns the restaurant, what calls me to Brownsville? And, more broadly, what drives middle-class Southerners to seek pleasure and solace in places often referred to as joints and shacks?

September 04, 2018

A Points South story from the Fall 2018 issue 

In the evenings, after the day’s rain, my grandfather drove through Starke counting cars in the lots of other motels, doing the math and feeling like a winner. For guests visiting family members held in the nearby state prison, home of Florida’s electric chair, he offered a special rate, either out of sympathy or, envisioning the stream of customers who would return once a month, good business sense. (Probably both, my mother says.)

September 04, 2018

A Points South essay from the Fall 2018 issue.

The dock at Mountain Lake is everything a dock should be—whitewashed clapboard, punctuated by an airy pavilion with a red roof—but if you jumped off it, all you’d hit is earth. There is no water here. No puddles even. Just soil, sandstone, milkweed, sassafras, and the occasional pine sapling. Skirting the periphery of the lakebed, a belt of rhododendron holds back the woods. Jutting into a meadow as it does, the dock resembles a hitchhiker’s thumb. Well, I’m not needed here anymore. I might as well move on. 

September 04, 2018

A Points South essay from the Fall 2018 issue

My suitcase is full of batik and baby cologne. One bar emulates the American South. The cover band plays Journey.

September 04, 2018

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.