Johnny Mercer drew from the same black musical traditions as Elvis would a generation later and made, if not quite a billion dollars, certainly an inexhaustible fortune, and left behind a half-dozen of America’s most indelible melodies besides.
The Rock*A*Teens came along in the early nineties, after a string of tragedies rocked the Cabbagetown community. As Atlanta-based journalist Doug Deloach told me: “To tell the story of the Rock*A*Teens is to also tell the story of Cabbagetown and all the bands that came before them.”
MC Shy D brought hip-hop to Atlanta. Or anyway, he brought Atlanta to hip-hop—in the mid-eighties, he was the first rapper from the city to break out of it, to tour the country and make a name for himself. He became an object of adulation to the whole region.
Bessie Jones nurtured a prodigious repertoire of songs—hundreds of them, for work, play, worship, instruction—as both a rite and as a vocation. Her vision was one of radical egalitarianism, inspired by the enduring collective, expressive folk traditions—occupational, recreational, spiritual—of the black rural South and her ardent faith in a kind of ecstatic liberation theology, which found activist application in the civil rights movement.
During Sweet Auburn’s heyday, a brotherhood of gifted guitar-playing soul singers, though largely unknown by a wide audience today, formed a loose collective. They wrote songs together, recorded them, encouraged one another, and competed fiercely, each believing in a coming personal glory that never came.
An installment in our weekly series, The By and By.
I am lying in bed on the Fourth of July. The apartment is empty. A box fan is propped on the dresser, blowing cool air, though I can’t hear it. I’m wearing headphones and listening to Bohannon: Speaks from the Beginning. This is the audiobook memoir of Hamilton Bohannon. Not the audiobook of the memoir, in other words, but the audiobook memoir—it only exists in an audio format. He didn’t find it necessary to write down the details of his life. Sound is his medium, always was. So he speaks.
A conversation with Cynthia Shearer. I got trained as a fiction writer to shamble in like Moms Mabley asking that the house lights be turned back on because we are not done talking about this or that particular thing. In Fletcher Henderson’s case, we need to pull the camera back a little on that stock scene of the little boy locked in with the piano and get more in the frame.
Ray Stevens is a slippery one. He’ll don an endless succession of zany personas, then suddenly play it straight and savvy when you least expect it. In the music video for “The Streak” he’s all over the place, making his entrance as a voluble TV news reporter, chasing down the scoop on a flashing incident at the local Bi-Rite.