This year we’ve compiled our “greatest hits,” including selections of the most beloved music writing from our archive—guest edited by Brittany Howard, the Grammy Award-winning singer, songwriter, and frontwoman of the Alabama Shakes. This jam-packed issue also includes new essays on iconic Southern artists who have changed the trajectory of American music.
Rather than including a CD this year, we’ve asked guest contributors to curate a selection of playlists that limn the bounty of Southern music across genres. These are available to stream on Spotify.
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It’s humid in Alabama. On a makeshift sandlot pitcher’s mound, a lanky kid begins his wind-up to the tune of a song he alone can hear. It’s a lilting number, chaotic and beautiful, clarinets and fiddles weaving intricately. He lifts his arms above his head. He could be the greatest ever, the poet laureate of baseball, he thinks—then he smiles, takes a deep breath, and delivers another swinging strike.
It’s nighttime in Mississippi. A bluegrass legend, alone in the hills, rolls into a familiar lick, catches a wrong note, winces, and sighs a hot, whiskey breath. Letters between lost friends float by, lifted on a westerly wind.
It’s snowing in the South. A woman rises early, looks out her window at the sheets of ice, and then, smiling, falls back into bed. In an apartment down the hall, Stephen Curry highlights play on TV, and someone sings, They could have had him any day, they only let him slip away.
Dusk falls in the city. In a small and dimly lit corner bar, a jazz collective tunes up their horns, preparing to combust rhythms into the night. A man, trying to find the club on Google Maps, stops for a passing group of black-dressed mourners. From his car window he sees a young woman leaving a used bookstore with a copy of C. D. Wright’s Cooling Time.
A collector ambles down to his basement, tripping on boxes packed with rabid miscellany. He hears Julien Baker’s “Blacktop” wilting from the turntable in the living room. Somewhere on the highway, a car idles in the snow, its headlamps brightening the darkness beyond the shoulder.
Today, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) announced awards totaling more than $27.6 million in its first funding round of fiscal year 2016, including an Art Works award of $20,000 to the Oxford American to support the publication and promotion of the magazine in 2016.