Notes on the songs from our 21st Southern Music Issue Sampler featuring South Carolina.
It is fitting that this Southern Music Issue (the Oxford American’s twenty-first) devoted to South Carolina should come in 2019, as the nation moves to better recognize the tragic anniversary of the first sale of enslaved Africans on American soil, in August of 1619. About forty percent of the enslaved people brought to America came through Charleston; today most African Americans have roots in the city (some estimates go as high as eighty percent). Or to put a finer point on it, as Joshunda Sanders writes in this issue, “No Black person has a family tree that has not been pruned by slavery.” Acknowledging, parsing, and reckoning with this history is the prominent theme of this South Carolina music issue—as is celebrating the immense wealth of cultural heritage that has sprung from this small, proud place.
Established in early 1933, the Plantation Echoes were made up of fifty Gullah field hands who enjoyed singing spirituals, most dating back to slavery. A handful of the singers were, in fact, former slaves themselves. Heyward’s praise of the Plantation Echoes was effusive. “The entertainment is not only highly unique but enlightening,” he later remarked. “There is an electrifying quality to the ‘shouting’ and the performers’ ability to shift from one time to another in perfect unison is a revelation.”