November 10, 2020

An essay from the Greatest Hits Music Issue

The first songs that I listened to by Talibah Safiya had this soft, sweet, plaintive quality. There is something else underneath if you listen a bit closer: a little loneliness. The knowledge that this sweetness is fleeting. Even though these first songs that I listened to maybe didn’t sound like the blues (one streaming platform calls the tunes Millennial Jazz), the blues was certainly riding under the skirt of that sweetness.

November 10, 2020

An essay from the Greatest Hits Music Issue

A better South, the Up South, insists that Black artistry and industry be recognized for their excellence, and that the measure of Black art be located in the pleasure of Black audience.

Nobody knew this better than LaVern Baker and no place provided a more significant Black audience than the Up South metropolis that was the Motor City

November 10, 2020

An essay from the Greatest Hits Music Issue

To say they’re singing doesn’t do justice to the noise they’re making; they sound like pilgrims in distress. Ely, a former coal miner, sounds like he’s hollering from the bottom of a cave.

November 10, 2020

An essay from the Greatest Hits Music Issue

If my dad’s career trajectory seemed unlikely, that paled in comparison to the odds of such a thing occurring at all in a small dry county in the Bible Belt. That so many of the most beloved soul hits of the civil rights era came from an integrated group of players just two hours north of Birmingham, where firehoses and police dogs were used against King’s marchers, is the kind of plot that’s too far-fetched for fiction and too unbelievable to be told without corresponding proof.

November 10, 2020

An essay from the Greatest Hits Music Issue

She traveled the world and left it scorched with her fearlessness and musical originality, inspired fierce devotion from an audience who thrilled to her enormous gifts and her personal excesses, and shook the celestial rafters with the force of her artistic character. She was also my dad’s favorite singer.

November 10, 2020

A poem from the Greatest Hits Music Issue

Oh, oh, baby: the door opened making new, irregular / air, startled into the shape of Texas. Blood behind each syllable, / as if my body recognized touch & pulse before a hand / had ever laid there.

November 10, 2020

A poem from the Greatest Hits Music Issue

A man is a woman inside / Waiting to come home. / A man inside a woman is / A mother-of-pearl, a wading / Handmaiden, inside a man / Made prison, prism of light. 

November 10, 2020

Originally published in our Tennessee Music Issue 

There is a remarkable story tucked halfway through Bessie, Chris Albertson’s biography of the blues singer Bessie Smith, in which Smith approaches a circle of robed North Carolina Klansmen, places one hand on her hip, and begins shaking the other in the air. She hollers obscenities at the men until “they finally turned and disappeared quietly into the darkness.” This is the sort of tale that stinks of apocrypha, but is nonetheless a useful encapsulation of Smith’s particular prowess: shouting darkness into darkness.

November 10, 2020

A poem from the Greatest Hits Music Issue

“The best of friends are sure to part one day.” / I can’t remember who said it but it’s true. I wish / the little church next door was there in person / so I could hear them singing. I really do.

November 10, 2020

A poem from the Greatest Hits Music Issue

Driving by kudzu, under oblong leaves / of live oaks as their roots knuckle up, / past the trawlers, who dredge pretty pink shrimp / from the belly of the coral-lipped sea, / war’s on, whether we say yes to it or no.

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