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The Oxford American’s 22nd Annual 
Southern Music Issue

Guest edited by
BRITTANY HOWARD

 

Order your copy today.

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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Originally published in our 1993 Music Issue 

Long before any R.E.M. albums went gold or platinum, the band’s omnipresence on the college scene made them as much an oppressive force in bookworm circles as the “mainstream” music they were supposed to be an “alternative” from was to the rest of the world. 

Originally published in our 2011 Music Issue 

Now, I wonder, is the song about a smokestack, a place, a woman, or a state of mind? “Whoa oh tell me, baby / Where did ya stay last night?” The phrases seemed to collide, creating tension essential to the blues shaped around the timbre of Howlin’ Wolf’s voice, which perhaps echoed the familiar robust presence of a deacon I’d heard at church.

Originally published in our Kentucky Music Issue

It was 1995, the year Joan Osborne’s “One of Us” was released, the end of my eighth-grade year, in rural Kentucky where homophobia was—and continues to be—rampant. My secret boyfriend and I—the one I had kissed in darkened classrooms after Science Olympiad practice, his blond scruff chafing my freshly shaved cheeks—had broken up. We were bullied and threatened in the hallways at school, and gossiped about when we passed notes between classes and had lunch together. I ache for those two boys now, for the normal acne-scarred romance they were never allowed to have.

Originally published in our 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. 

A poem from the Greatest Hits Music Issue

“The best of friends are sure to part one day.” / I can’t remember who said it but it’s true. I wish / the little church next door was there in person / so I could hear them singing. I really do.

An essay from the Greatest Hits Music Issue

A better South, the Up South, insists that Black artistry and industry be recognized for their excellence, and that the measure of Black art be located in the pleasure of Black audience.

Nobody knew this better than LaVern Baker and no place provided a more significant Black audience than the Up South metropolis that was the Motor City

Originally published in our Georgia Music Issue

Grandmama’s stank was root and residue of black Southern poverty, and devalued black Southern labor, black Southern excellence, black Southern imagination, and black Southern woman magic. This was the stank from whence black Southern life, love, and labor came. I didn’t fully understand or feel inspired by Grandmama’s stank or freshness until I heard the albums ATLiens and Aquemini from those Georgia-based artists called OutKast.

An essay from the Greatest Hits Music Issue

She traveled the world and left it scorched with her fearlessness and musical originality, inspired fierce devotion from an audience who thrilled to her enormous gifts and her personal excesses, and shook the celestial rafters with the force of her artistic character. She was also my dad’s favorite singer.