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Oxford American 17th Annual Southern Music Issue: Georgia

C. Michael Bailey By

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Oxford American 17th Annual Southern Music Issue: Georgia
Eliza Borne, Editor
Issue 91, Winter 2015

One of my best friends (and fellow Arkansans) and I often discuss the maddeningly conflicted legacy of those United States making up the Old Confederacy. He likes to point out that in no other region is ignorance and cultural retardation more embraced and valued than our very own Dixie. My friend often laments that anywhere is better than the American South and that we are little better than a rag-tag collection of Third-World counties making up the geographic underbelly of the 48-contiguious states.

I do not dispute any of this save for the South is much more than race, religion, guns, and "Mississippi Goddamn." This steamy, almost tropical region, has been a hot house incubator of creativity that has not just enriched the United States, but the world as a whole. Picking just two areas of cultural contribution: literature and music, the South is almost without peer. That is why consideration of the Oxford American tradition of an annual music issue is so critical—it highlights and celebrates both music and literature contemporaneously, featuring the music of the South and writing about that music.

The Music.

Mark Kemp, in his study of roots music, Dixie Lullaby: A Story of Music Race and New Beginnings in a New South (University of Georgia Press, 2006) quotes a certain Crystal Lunsford, on the subject of southern music:

"How come you think music's so good in the South. It's because black people and white people worked together to make it so damn good, that's how come. There's always been black people in white southern music and white people in black southern music. That's the way it works down here. We wouldn't have southern rock & roll without the black influence, but then, I don't think the blues and rock & roll would have been as accepted if it weren't for white people down here who backed them and pushed them and recorded them. It took both races. Music has always been universal thing down here. It goes beyond color. And it goes all the way back to slavery."

David Kirby, in his recent Little Richard: The Birth of Rock & Roll (Bloomsbury Academic, 2009) I read preparing to address David Ramsey's contribution to the issue, "Calling Little Richard," elaborates on Kemp's quote from Lunsford by noting that:

..."Crystal Lunsford isn't a professor or music critic. As Kemp explains, she is a third- generation employee of the Eveready plant in in Asheboro, North Carolina who lives by herself in a trailer in rural Guilford County. If you're the kind of expert who doesn't look beyond the obvious, you might think the musical world is as segregated as the school systems back in the day. But if you live out in the wood and you keep your eyes and ears open...then you know there's more to the picture."

And that brings us to the Oxford American 17th Annual Southern Music Issue: Georgia.

A 17th annual anything should be labeled an event. Oxford American magazine's annual music issue, with its companion compact disc, has become one of the most expected and anticipated publications of the year among music and literary enthusiasts. Founded in 1992 in Oxford, Mississippi, the magazine has concentrated on the writings of such southern literary luminaries as Charles Portis, Roy Blount Jr., Allan Gurganus, and Kevin Brockmeier, as well as new writing talent emerging from its hot climes. For the past 17 years, the Oxford American has published an annual Southern Music Issue, accompanied by CD collection of songs focusing on specific genre and musical eras. Beginning with the 2009 Music Issue, the magazine began devoting the entire issue to the music of a single Southern state, including Arkansas (2009), Alabama (2010), Mississippi, (2011), Louisiana (2012), and Tennessee (2013), Texas (2014) and presently, Georgia (2015). This has been a successful way to showcase music locally Southern grown. This is, of course, completely appropriate given the cradle of American Music civilization is the South, from which all American music sprung.

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