For the Southbound project we worked with recording artist and Southern musicologist Jake Fussell to create a playlist inspired by the images and artists participating in the exhibition.

Jake Fussell:
Jake Fussell is a musician and researcher from Columbus, Georgia, who now lives in Durham, North Carolina. Fussell received his MA in Southern Studies from the University of Mississippi in 2012; his thesis examines the longstanding presence of fiddle music among the Choctaw people of Mississippi, Louisiana, and Oklahoma. In 2015, he released his first eponymous solo album, which was followed in 2017 by a second release, What in the Natural World. Fussell’s music has been featured in Oxford American and Uncut, and his most recent album was chosen by music journalist Amanda Petrusich for The New Yorker‘s Top 10 albums of 2017. He is currently working on a third album. While he’s not touring and playing gigs, Fussell hosts a weekly radio show on community station WHUP FM out of Hillsborough, North Carolina. Fall Line Radio explores “music of the American South and beyond” every Wednesday from 1:00 to 3:00 in the afternoon. More about Jake.

fragment, khene tune (Lao bamboo mouth harp) – Reagan Ngmavilay 
Front PorchCedric Burnside
Mother in the GraveyardAnna & Elizabeth
Peace Behind the BridgeEtta Baker & Wayne Martin
La Redada de Winder – Monarquía Norteña
Voodoo ManJay Electronica
Living HellFitness Womxn
Tree BluesOlu Dara
At the Purchaser’s OptionRhiannon Giddens
Song for the Setting Sun IDaniel Bachman
Lost in MississippiDead Fingers
Guide Me, JehovahWalker Calhoun
Fruits of My LaborLucinda Williams
El Corrido de KatrinaHerminia Guevara
New Indian BluesBrother Tyrone
Crooked RoadThe Preacher’s Kids
At the CrossNancy and Mark Brown
Woman Red RackedMatana Roberts
Billy ButtonMary Ruth Moore & Art Rosenbaum

Tie My HandsLil Wayne
Father, I Stretch My Hand to TheeUnion Chapel Community Baptist Church congregation, Pembroke, NC
Hello from the Edge of the EarthMary Lattimore 
Not Far AwayReigning Sound
WeEastPointin’Cool Breeze
Darla Come Down from JacksonCharlie McAlister
Joaquin AngelesTrio Alborada Hidalguense 
I Ain’t Leaving MississippiJaye Hammer
Bonsoir MoreauLes Amis Creole
Gin in My SystemBig Freedia 
Looking For All (All Rendered Truth)Lonnie Holley
El Corrido de la HB56Agave Norteño
Ninety-Fifth 36B (When I Can Read My Title Clear)Henagar-Union Sacred Harp Convention, 2006
There is a Fountain Filled with BloodLori & Aubrey Ghent
Fall On My KneesSheila Kay Adams
Put Your Right Foot ForwardThe Original Pinettes Brass Band

SOUTHBOUND:A Playlist of Songs of and about the New South

The music of the contemporary American South is so varied, dynamic, and voluminous that a lifetime’s listening could not do it justice. This list contains thirty-five musical selections amounting to more than two hours of listening time, yet it barely begins to scratch the surface. As you listen, however, you will likely recognize elements and themes that overlap and intersect across genres and communities. And while you will likely hear echoes of multigenerational continuity grounded firmly within tradition, you will also hear new sonic forms and radical approaches which challenge and overthrow expectations of music-making in the New South.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, narrative balladry was all the rage among intrepid folksong scholars and collectors who traversed the hills and hollows of Appalachia in search of a British oral tradition in what they imagined, often misguidedly, was its rawest and purest form. While there remain a handful of exceptional singers of the long-form English-language ballad in the region—not least among them Sheila Kay Adams and Anna & Elizabeth, who are featured here—the majority of narrative ballads now played in the Southeast are sung in Spanish.

The Mexican corrido, or story-song, is immensely popular among thousands of Mexican American and Central American people currently living in the South. The form’s creators and practitioners take on new lyrical content as they deal with the day-to-day realities of life in the region. Although the subject matter is contemporary and the instrumentation and presentation may be unusual to some Southerners, a few familiar themes emerge. The Atlanta Norteño group Monarquía Norteña’s “La Redada de Winder” bears witness to a 2004 raid on a popular cockfight in Winder, Georgia. In “Joaquín Angeles,” the Huasteca group Trio Alborada Hidalguense sings of the tragic death of a young migrant worker from Mexico who was killed while working in Tennessee.

Fears and frustrations associated with the vulnerability and exploitation of laborers and their families living within immigrant communities are expressed in many of these corridos. One telling example is Agave Norteño’s “El Corrido de la HB56,” which takes on the state of Alabama’s xenophobic bill HB 56, signed into law in 2011. The bill severely limits the rights of anyone whom the police believe “with reasonable suspicion” might be unlawfully present in the state. In “El Corrido de Katrina,” Houston mariachi singer Herminia Guevara tells us of chaos and horror in the days immediately following the arrival of Hurricane Katrina, as does New Orleans–born rapper Lil Wayne in his heart-wrenching 2008 release “Tie My Hands.”

Bill Steber. Sharde and Bill, 2003. Gravel Springs, Mississippi

In Lil Wayne’s dirge and several of the songs on this list, a robust sense of place and various manifestations of community pride, albeit seldom without some sense of internal conflict, are present. This can be heard in Mississippi hill-country bluesman Cedric Burnside’s reminiscing on “Front Porch,” New Orleans soul singer Brother Tyrone’s retrospective paean to his native Sixth Ward in “New Indian Blues,” Atlanta hip-hop artist Cool Breeze’s localized anthem “WeEastPointin’,” and Mississippi soul singer Jaye Hammer’s comically defiant “I Ain’t Leaving Mississippi.”

Solo, non-vocal tunes—what musicologist Richard K. Spottswood calls “display pieces” and we know as instrumentals—continue to stand as a major element in many arenas of southern musicianship, as indicated, for instance, by increased attendance at the region’s many fiddlers’ conventions. The late Etta Baker (1913–2011) of Morganton, North Carolina, was certainly one of the Southeast’s finest guitarists and an unrivaled twenty-first-century matriarch of the Piedmont school of fingerpicking; here she is heard playing an uncommon banjo tune, “Peace Behind the Bridge,” accompanied by her friend folklorist Wayne Martin on the fiddle. Harpist Mary Lattimore of Asheville, North Carolina, summons otherworldly vitality and refreshing innovation from an ancient instrument on “Hello from the Edge of the Earth,” as does young guitarist and folk-music researcher Daniel Bachman of Fredericksburg, Virginia, on “Song for the Setting Sun I.” The opening track on this list is a fragment of a tune played on the khene, a type of mouth organ constructed of bamboo reeds that is native to Laos, and was brought to Alabama’s Mobile Bay by Reagan Ngamvilay, one of thousands of Southeast Asian refugees who fled to the U.S. Gulf Coast in the 1970s and 1980s to escape political and social turmoil resulting from the Vietnam War and surrounding conflicts in Laos and Cambodia.

As in the corrido tradition and in the wealth of political and protest songs that arose from the abolition, labor, and civil rights movements in the South, a number of the songs here challenge and express discontent with various power structures, systems of hierarchy, and the numerous social inequities—explicit and implicit, personal and institutional—that continue to dominate life in the region and beyond. These themes are most directly illuminated in “Living Hell,” by the feminist post-punk band Fitness Womxn based in Carrboro, North Carolina, and “At the Purchaser’s Option,” from songwriter Rhiannon Giddens of Greensboro, North Carolina, which conjures the horrors of an antebellum past and brings them into sharp focus in the present tense.

All too frequently, anthologies and histories of southern music marginalize American Indians as nothing more than an historical footnote. Listeners here will find several examples of southeastern Native American music ways, including a Cherokee-language version of the spiritual standard “Guide Me, Jehovah,” performed by the late banjo player and medicine man Walker Calhoun (1918–2012), “At the Cross,” a spiritual by Cherokee husband-and-wife gospel duo Nancy and Mark Brown, and a recent field recording of a Lumbee Indian congregation singing at the Union Chapel Community Baptist Church in Pembroke, North Carolina. Religious and ceremonial music, including these types of Christian gospel hymnody, have continued to prove as culturally relevant as any other form of creative expression in the region.

While some folklorists and musicologists have worked on the presumption that they were documenting traditions at risk of imminent extinction, others have foreseen revivals of interest in seemingly endangered genres, and ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax, who was prone to romantic generalizations on occasion, couldn’t have been more spot-on when, in the early 1980s, he predicted that the Sacred Harp school of shape-note singing would experience an enthusiastic rejuvenation led by young singers across the nation and elsewhere. The Sacred Harp legacy is now going as strong as ever, and one can get a sense of its resilience in the passionate singing heard at the Henagar-Union Sacred Harp Convention in northeastern Alabama, where pieces like Isaac Watts’s early-eighteenth-century hymn “Ninety-Fifth,” alternately known as “When I Can Read My Title Clear,” are performed alongside contemporary compositions.

Gospel music aside, individual visionary experiences and various spiritual ruminations continually inform the music of southern composers and performers. Some of these reflections and revelations are illuminated here in the magical realism of New Orleans poet-rapper Jay Electronica’s “Voodoo Man,” the search for salvation by Florida-born Mississippi songwriter Tyler Keith and his band The Preacher’s Kids on “Crooked Road,” the cosmic biblical musings of late South Carolina artist and singer Charlie McAlister (1969–2018) in “Darla Come Down from Jackson,” and in the Alabama visionary artist Lonnie Holley’s lifelong quest for “All Rendered Truth.”

Universal themes of earthly desires and the search for love, companionship, and understanding, often situated in the realm of the natural world, are evident in many of these performances, perhaps most of all in Memphis rock band Reigning Sounds’ “Not Far Away,” Natchez-born songwriter Olu Dara’s “Tree Blues,”Louisiana native Lucinda Williams’s “Fruits of My Labor,” and in experimental musician and composer Matana Roberts’s haunting and ominous “Woman Red Racked,” which was informed by the field recordings of Alabama singer Vera Ward Hall.

Other performances here will inspire the listener to dance, chief among them “Bonsoir Moreau,” a longtime favorite waltz in the dance halls of south Louisiana, played here by Les Amis Creole, the infectious and intoxicating “Gin in My System” by reigning Queen of Bounce Big Freedia, and “Put Your Right Foot Forward” by New Orleans’ all-woman second-line group The Original Pinettes Brass Band.

It is fitting to conclude this playlist with such a performance, not only as an example of the central role that dance has played in the development and continuation of the South’s many musical cultures, but also because the song calls its listeners to come forward and to participate: “Put your right foot forward, drag your left to the rear / Put your right foot forward, and bring your hands right here.” This ongoing, ecstatic interplay between the movement of the individual and the shared, collective experience may well serve as an appropriate framework for listening to and thinking about the music of the New South, as southern musicians continue to respond to the realities of the present by reshaping and challenging longstanding community traditions through participation and resistance.

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