January 21, 2017

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.

December 22, 2013

Right after my ninth birthday, Daddy had a tantrum that made him punch a hole in the wall, his right hand break, and his secretary walk out. That made him punch the wall with his left hand and break that one too, and that was how I ended up Daddy's secretary summer before fourth grade. We worked from home, in an office that Little Steve the Child Molester built in exchange for services rendered. The office window looked out into dry yellow field, and on the far side of the field was our cow pond and Daddy's burn pile.

July 14, 2015

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.

November 19, 2019

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. 

January 06, 2014

Tara’s confession to Charlie Rich, a major country star that year, was among forty-two others I discovered in the home of a woman who produced Rich in the 1960s. Unread for nearly forty years, mixed in with yellowing newspaper clips and old drink coasters from a Las Vegas revue, they were the last known remnants of the Charlie Rich Fan Club. Variously handwritten, typed up, set on stationery and notebook paper, the stash contained the intimate pleas and declarations of fans who sought communion with the star known as “The Silver Fox.”

May 17, 2016

“I should have put a stop to that craftsman shit a long time ago,” Guy Clark says. “It makes my skin crawl. It’s nobody’s fault but mine because I didn’t step up and say, ‘No, that’s not right.’ I consider what I do poetry. I don’t need to prove I’m a poet in every line and I’m not afraid to speak plainly in my songs. Not everything needs to be a metaphor and I don’t need lofty words. But it is my obligation as a poet to be faithful to the verse. I write what I know. I write what I see.”

October 29, 2015

“They all seemed together by ear,” according to Nancy Blake. “It was the first time I’d ever seen hillbilly string musicians hit that Charles Mingus headspace. I knew there was music coming into the world that had never been in it before.”

December 31, 2015

We can imagine a fantastical world where time travel is possible, yet we cannot conceive of any point in the past, or even the future, where black people can live free. Into this grim possibility arrives Janelle Monáe.

January 26, 2017

A story from our 18th Southern Music Issue: Visions of the Blues.

All day long the song has kept him thinking, a few clumsy lines scribbled on hotel stationery like black rivers rushing across the page. What imposters his words are. Music pays him to be. Music plays him to be. He sets the pen down on the table and tears off another chunk of hash. Having spent the better part of the day doing just this. See, the beautiful dried hashish in his hand. He puts it in the tall dazzling bong and lights it. Those sharing the table with him inside the café take turns, lips pressed against the long tilted rim of the pipe, then an intake of smoke, causing the bowl to start gurgling. Lazy smoke hovering about the room like gray birds. Four of them sitting at a round table with a mosaic top and heavy iron legs. His skull is filled with feathers, little sleep last night, but he swears that when he finishes this song, this moment will be in it. All of Tangier.

November 19, 2019

A Points South essay from the South Carolina Music Issue.

Esquerita and Little Richard stayed in touch as friends, collaborators, and rivals until 1986, when Little Richard was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Esquerita died, a victim of AIDS who was buried in an unmarked grave on Hart Island, New York. Their careers had mirrored each other over rock & roll’s first thirty years, playing out the dualities of the sacred and the profane, music and money, and God and the Voola, what Esquerita called his mojo, the spirit that motivated his music.