July 28, 2001

A story from our 2001 Southern Music issue.

I first heard Charley Patton thirty years ago, on a two-LP compilation called The Story of the Blues, which I won in a contest. My adolescent ear was immediately sucked in by the mystery, the wit, the slyness, and the expressive variety of the performances of Blind Boy Fuller, Memphis Minnie, Texas Alexander, Leroy Carr, Barbecue Bob, Bessie Smith, Big Joe Turner, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Otis Spann, Blind Willie McTell, and the rest.

June 28, 2017

A new song and a short essay by Nashville guitarist William Tyler. 

Confronted with the hideous, we must commit to rebuilding, resetting, listening, doing good, fighting injustice, and trying to keep an eye on maintaining beauty. It’s on all of us. My music is instrumental but it’s political. It’s protest music in its own way.

June 13, 2017

A story by Jesmyn Ward, the second of three excerpts from her forthcoming novel Sing, Unburied, Sing. 

Because I wanted Michael’s mouth on me, because from the first moment I saw him walking across the grass to where I sat in the shadow of the school sign, he saw me. Saw past skin the color of unmilked coffee, eyes black, lips the color of plums, and saw me. Saw the walking wound I was, and came to be my balm.

June 13, 2017

In many ways, I blame rock & roll for what happened. I discovered this unholy music in boyhood, when my Uncle Mike died an untimely death at age twenty-eight. My grandmother gave all his 8-tracks to me, music I’d never heard before: Rush, Bowie, Little Feat, Eat a Peach. The eighties pop dished out by FM radio was candied and glittering and great fun, sure, but this older music was dark and gas-powered, all fire and gravel.

March 14, 2017

A story by Jesmyn Ward, the first of three excerpts from her forthcoming novel Sing, Unburied, Sing. 

I like to think I know what death is. I like to think that it’s something I could look at straight. When Pop tell me he need my help and I see that black knife slid into the belt of his pants, I follow Pop out the house, try to keep my back straight, my shoulders even as a hanger; that’s how Pop walks. I try to look like this is normal and boring so Pop will think I’ve earned these thirteen years, so Pop will know I’m ready to pull what needs to be pulled, separate innards from muscle, organs from cavities. I want Pop to know I can get bloody. Today’s my birthday.

May 26, 2017

Foreword to a collection of personal narratives by the junior class at New Orleans’s George Washington Carver High School.

I’ve read the essays in this book at least ten times each, not because I have to, but because I don’t think there is another book like it in the world. The really terrifying thing is that I need this book even more now than I needed it as an eleventh grader. If every American book published in 2018 were written to the eleventh grade at Carver High School in New Orleans, the world would be less violent. If every American book published in 2018 were written by eleventh graders at Carver, the world would be more loving. Though these young folks are rarely written to in American literature, they know who they are. And they know who the folks are who refuse to see all of their complexity. “We are rare and powerful,” the younger writers tell us in the introduction.

May 15, 2017

The introduction to a previously unpublished poem by Margaret Walker. 

Nearly twenty years after her death and seventy-five years after the publication of For My People, this magazine sent me a previously unpublished poem of Walker’s. The poem, “An Elegiac Valedictory,” is a work that remembers, with comic clarity, the words, food, time, and space she shared with the likes of Toni Cade Bambara, James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison, and Audre Lorde.

May 09, 2017

Photographs from This Land: An American Portrait.

Jack Spencer spent thirteen years working on the project and traveled more than eighty thousand miles across all forty-eight contiguous states looking for scenes and moments that he says are “an expression of the perception of an ideal.”

May 10, 2017

A new song and a Mother’s Day prayer from Mississippi gospel trio the Como Mamas. 

Mom was there all the time!
When you were whining,
When you were upset.
At night, when you couldn’t sleep,
She’d come in and pray with you.
She’d come in and maybe read you a word.
She’d come in and sing you a song.

March 23, 2017

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

 
I blush quicker than a school of blue jack mackerel
arranging itself into an orb of dazzle to avoid
 
nips and gulps from the dolphins whove been silently
trailing them, waiting for them to relax.