We’re so excited to reveal the cover of our 21st Annual Southern Music Issue! Featuring unforgettable songs and stories from South Carolina, the issue includes voices ranging from the Upstate to the Lowcountry, highlighting icons like Dizzy Gillespie and Eartha Kitt, as well as contemporary artists such as Shovels & Rope and Ranky Tanky.
Our cover star is NASA astronaut Ronald McNair, who became a physics (and music) pioneer when he brought a soprano sax into orbit in 1984. A native of Lake City, South Carolina, McNair died tragically in the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster two years later. In a revelatory and thoughtful feature in the issue, Jon Kirby speaks with McNair’s family, friends, and colleagues, who remember him not only as a famous astronaut but also a devoted, one-of-a-kind musician.
To be the first to read this and other stories recognizing South Carolina’s vibrant music scene, pre-order the South Carolina Music Issue & Sampler today. The issue comes packaged with a CD compilation and digital download card.
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Take Sturgill Simpson. Sturgill (can I call you Sturgill?) is a Kentucky rascal, born in the heart of the Appalachian mountains. Jackson—population around twenty-one hundred. He comes from a family of coal miners. He was in the Navy. He worked on the railroad and played music and sang, and his wife reassured him he was good and should keep doing it. Sturgill Simpson’s first album, High Top Mountain, was self-funded, self-released in 2013, and the first track is “Life Ain’t Fair and the World Is Mean.” In 2017, Sturgill’s first major-label album, A Sailor’s Guide to Earth, won the Grammy for Best Country Album and was nominated for Album of the Year while being largely ignored by country radio and the country music awards.
A feature essay from the North Carolina Music Issue.
Perverse? Yes. Blasphemous? Maybe. But not irreconcilable. To contemplate the meaning of Jodeci is to grasp at the intersection of religion and excess, of devotion and abandon, of agape and eros—a space where holiness and hedonism coincide. Sacred and erotic poetry, after all, are not dichotomous, but rather the most intimate and ancient of bedfellows, from Sufi mysticism to Ovidian elegy. The meme may be “If the Love Doesn’t Feel Like ’90s R&B I Don’t Want It,” but literary history knows that Jodeci’s ars amatoria continues a millennia-old poetic program that welds the object of affection to something of the divine, a slippage between the beloved and the god, which the poet-scholar L. Lamar Wilson describes as “sacrilegion,” a never-ending hunger for the unattainable object of erotic perfection.
“I didn’t do any research,” Luther Dickinson said with a grin as he opened the door to his room at the Washington Square Park Hotel. Dickinson was in New York for a show that evening at Rockwood Music Hall, and he had agreed to talk with me about a question I’d become obsessed with: Did blues slide guitar evolve from the Hawaiian steel guitar or from the African instrument usually claimed as its ancestor?
In 1892, Mildred wrote an article titled “Negro Music” for Music, a Chicago journal. She used the pseudonym Johann Tonsor because she was worried that her ideas wouldn’t be taken seriously if readers knew she was a woman. Two decades before the appearance of jazz, she claimed that the African-American sound would be the basis of American music in the next century. Mildred, who died in 1916, had no idea that one of her own African-American-influenced tunes would become an enduring part of popular culture.
A feature essay from the North Carolina Music Issue.
Rapsody now dons the mantle for a long tradition of black women, particularly those from the South, forcing Americans to look in the mirror of our professed ideals and to face the ills that haunt us. She carries the torch the outspoken, Tryon-born Nina Simone held high in the heat of the last century’s civil rights movement, before she fled to Europe for respite and asylum. She embodies the quiet fire and sensuality of the diminutive Roberta Flack, born in the Asheville-area town of Black Mountain, whose blend of torch ballads, folk, soul, gospel, and disco transformed what could be decidedly black and land in the genre of “pop music” as the civil rights fight gave way in the latter part of the century to the cultural appropriation that integration wrought.
A Freakwater song works something like this. Irwin starts singing over a bass and guitar. Bean comes in after a few bars, accompanied by violin or pedal steel. They trade lines back and forth, then converge into stacked harmonies in which Irwin’s low earthy timbre finds a counterpoint in Bean’s airy alto. It’s those two perfectly paired voices that keep you from drowning in what the songs are actually about.
A feature story from the North Carolina Music Issue.
The Wrays had an old-world, Keatsian melancholy. It bloomed in the kitchen of their 6th Street home in Portsmouth, Virginia, where, from about 1951 to ’55, they recorded songs on a one-track, mostly originals written by Vernon. This was back when the music was fun, before it became a business. It’s the sort of thing that’s dashed off and then mislaid and vanishes somewhere. Sherry found the masters in a box of her dad’s stuff that, horrifyingly, was bound for the dump. She rescued them, and named the disc 6th Street Kitchen. The vibe is Elvis doing Dylan’s Great White Wonder: gushy, drunken ballads, some barely a minute long, and rapturous in the way that the smallest beginnings can express enormous feeling.