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A Points South essay from our North Carolina Music Issue. 

After twenty-four years of educational experimentation and financial struggle, Black Mountain College closed in 1956. Today it is remembered primarily for its tremendous impact on the visual arts. Among the famous painters to emerge from its tiny student body (yearly enrollment was consistently well below one hundred) were Robert Rauschenberg, Kenneth Noland, Susan Weil, Dorothea Rockburne, Ruth Asawa, and Cy Twombly. But it’s also fair to say that the most notorious experimental music composition of the twentieth century would likely never have been composed or performed if not for its cultivation there. John Cage’s two terms as a summer instructor, four years apart, bookended his larger transformation from a critically accepted, if minor, experimental musician to perhaps America’s most controversial living composer. It began with a food fight in Black Mountain’s dining hall. 

A feature essay from the North Carolina Music Issue. 

I wanted to start with the wild weeds and the creaking wood on the front porch, walking up to Nina Simone’s childhood home in Tryon, North Carolina. I wanted to start where she started, imagining her daddy playing jazz standards on the piano, her mama cooking something good and greasy in the cramped kitchen with siblings zooming around. I envisioned myself, like Alice Walker looking for Zora Neale Hurston’s unmarked grave, shouting Nina in the derelict home, hoping somehow she would appear, gloriously phantasmagoric, and answer all of my incessant probing questions.

A Points South essay from the North Carolina Music Issue.

Shortly after publishing the biography John Coltrane: His Life and Music, Lewis Porter received a letter from a man who identified himself as a Coltrane. Only not, presumably, one related to the great jazz musician. His ancestors had been white farmers in North Carolina. “He said, ‘I’ve been looking into my family history,’” Porter recalled recently, “‘and I have here a bill of sale that could be interesting.’” 

An interview with Les McCann from the Kentucky Music Issue. 

All through high school the band teacher and I were very good friends. He received tickets to all the bands and brought me to concerts. I was in perfect heaven. I never said no to anything. And my mother was a fake opera singer. She’d listen to the opera every Sunday while she cleaned house and wooooo, oh my God, it was great! Everybody was into something. Right across the street from our house was the Elk’s Club, so every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday night you’d hear a beautiful organ trio playing. 

A Points South essay from the Kentucky Music Issue. 

The last time I heard Jimmy Raney play was at Bellarmine College in Louisville. To know that a master like Raney had gone deaf was to know that a Rembrandt was burning. He played alone because he could no longer hear well enough to play with others.

The lounge’s changes reflect those of Trenton, which has been hit by deindustrialization, white flight, falling property values, a cratering tax base, budget cuts, and a drop in educational resources. There is probably a recovery formula for the rest of the city somewhere in the tiny fragment of an integrated, prospering populace that materializes for the Candlelight Saturday Sabbath with its transubstantiation of mouthpiece, breath, drum skin, string, and inner ear stereocilia into camaraderie.

Jazz owes its origins to the bump and grind of turn-of-the-century brothels and the colored waif orphanages of the South’s great cities, but where is the wellspring of swing? Swing, children, begins with Fletcher Henderson, one of the great big band leaders for the ages.

Christopher King has been digging through old barns and cellars looking for 78-rpm records for his entire adult life. An obsessives' obsessive, he has accumulated one of the most fascinating collections of once-overlooked music anywhere. Join us on a visit to his home studio in rural Virginia.