September 05, 2017

She watched the Kitler closely, but it mostly slept, waking only when she played the Police’s “Message in a Bottle” while making her morning coffee. When Sting got to the part about sending out an SOS, it lifted its furry head, twitched its ears, and stared plaintively, ready to help.

June 12, 2018

A Points South story from the Summer 2018 issue

In our collective memory, this land made it possible to take from so many. Now, I want it to give something back.

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. 

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. 

June 11, 2019

A Points South essay from the Summer 2019 issue

As an evangelist, I have showed “Miracles” to many people by lying about what it’s actually about. Generally, I describe it as a sort of joke, a curiosity. I don’t tell folks that when I first heard Frierson sing about being “only human” I was lonely and confused, and I listened to it so much that the music morphed into a personal manifesto about redemption, as if he had boiled down the obsessive and impossible task of purity into a formula. On first listen, how I feel about “Miracles” would seem ridiculous. 

September 03, 2019

A story from the Fall 2019 issue

And that was the day she invented it, this particular glazed expression of hers. She had created it to please her father, but it had served her well in her life. When she wore it, most men thought she was listening to them, and most women knew that the conversation was over. 

November 19, 2019

A Points South essay from the South Carolina Music Issue.

Lillie’s sound is not readily identifiable as black or white but seems a merger of the two as she effortlessly blends country and blues in a haunting song about family loss. Noticeably absent is the Gullah Geechee accent, and she finds little use for vibrato. Instead, a pure, unadorned, angelic quality characterizes her soprano. Such simplicity proves effective in conveying Lillie’s innermost thoughts—her pain.

January 22, 2014

Matraca Berg has written hits for Patty Loveless, Trisha Yearwood, Martina McBride, and Deana Carter. Now, the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame inductee is taking her own turn in the spotlight.

July 02, 2014

Gospel belongs to God and the blues is the Devil’s business, and here the blues takes the form of Son Thomas, whose spare bottleneck slide strips the tradition down to its roots. Son’s been sculpting figures and heads and skulls from clay gathered in the nearby hills for just about as long as he’s been playing the blues, which is to say: all his life.

January 07, 2015

Many people have the vague idea that Roy Orbison’s life was marked by tragedy, and that was why he hid his eyes behind dark glasses and sang so many songs about crying, feeling afraid, and dreaming of happier times. This actually gets the cause-and-effect sequence of Orbison’s life all wrong. It turns out that he wrote those terribly sad songs first, then he started dressing in black, and only later did his life fall apart.