The Civil Rights Movement gained national attention in the early 1960s. The many protests, marches, and stands for equality were sustained by freedom songs and music from musicians-turned-activists. The setbacks, hardships, failures, and successes of the movement for racial equality can be told through song.
We curated a playlist highlighting some of the songs that delivered powerful messages during that time period, namely “We Shall Overcome,” an old African American hymn that gained popularity in the 1950s. The song became the unofficial anthem of the movement, bringing strength, support, and hope to activists—during protest marches, in the face of violence, and in jail cells.
Musician, author, and dear friend Rosanne Cash was born in Tennessee to a family soon to become Southern music royalty, but has lived for over 20 years in New York City. Still, her Southern heritage played and continues to play a role in shaping who she is as an artist, a traveler, and a citizen of the world. She deeply explores her relationship with the South and with Southern culture in her newest album, The River and the Thread. Listening to these songs, you hear a songwriter investigating how where she came from helped shape who she is today. The tracks are heartfelt, touching, and, by turns, rocking.
A sweet friend to Alabama Chanin, Rosanne curated a playlist for us that includes some of her favorite songs from and about the South. These songs capture the sometimes-elusive nature of our homeland and the people we call family. I’ve been cooking and dancing (and, yes, singing) to these tracks for a week…
Come sing along.
Photo of Rosanne courtesy of Clay Patrick McBride.
Alabama Chanin friend and inspiration, Rosanne Cash, has lived in New York for over 20 years, but her link to the South remains deep and undeniable. Her mother, Vivian Liberto, was born in Texas and her father, Johnny Cash, was an Arkansas native. Rosanne was born in Memphis, Tennessee, and raised for much of her life in California. As a young woman, she also spent time living in Los Angeles, Nashville, London, among other stops on the road. Though she did not grow up in the South, her connection to the region is profound, largely because of what the South meant to her family and how that shaped her growth. It is this connection to the South and the region’s physical, musical, and emotional landscape that she explores in her newest record, The River and the Thread.
Rosanne found herself traveling southward frequently when Arkansas State University began restoring her father’s childhood home in Dyess, Arkansas. Knowing how much her father would have loved the project, Rosanne agreed to participate – which initiated a series of visits. As she traveled, she began to reconnect with the Southern sense of place, so essential to her family identity. She, along with husband and longtime collaborator, John Leventhal, began to shape and create an entire series of songs, all about the South. Rosanne said, “I started going back to where I was born and these songs started arriving in me. My heart got expanded to the South, to the people I had known, to the people I met… We started finding these stories, these great stories, and melodies that went with these experiences.”
Exploration of the extensive Dust-to-Digital catalog continues to reveal compilations that strongly resonate. We have previously written about the moving collections: I Listen to the Wind, Never a Pal Like Mother, Keeping a Record Of It, and Goodbye, Babylon.
Take Me to the Water: Immersion Baptism in Vintage Music and Photography 1890-1950 is a powerful collection that explores immersion baptism, an important component of many Southern religious traditions and religious culture worldwide.
At Alabama Chanin, we are proud of our home’s musical legacy. As we have written before, we are also proud to be surrounded by an impressive group of local, up-and-coming musicians. The Bear and Belle Adair are just two of a growing list of our favorite local bands.
Both bands have released records under local, indie label, Single Lock Records – founded by John Paul White of the Civil Wars, Ben Tanner of the Alabama Shakes, and Shoals native Will Trapp.
As seasons change and the holiday rush begins in full force, Christmas carols seem to appear earlier and earlier each year. Once upon a time, Thanksgiving was considered the unofficial date when radio stations began to play holiday music. This year, I heard my first Christmas carol when picking up Halloween candy at the grocery store.
But, regardless of whether you love or avoid holiday music, many of the seasonal songs have been around for hundreds of years. Some have social or political messages and many have a colorful history.
Musician and Alabama Chanin friend Jake Fussell grew up in Columbus, Georgia, and was exposed to traditional roots music while accompanying his father, folklorist and writer Fred Fussell, on numerous documentary fieldwork trips throughout the South. Through these journeys, Jake became a guitar student of the late Georgia blueswoman, Precious Bryant, and honed his skills playing with local string bands.
I was introduced to Jake and his music years ago by Butch, Maggie’s dad. A late night conversation was followed with a mixed CD, and since then Jake’s music has been in constant rotation on the Alabama Chanin studio playlists. His sound captures a unique aspect of the Southern voice and history – so much so that Jake played my one and only fashion show in New York in 2005.
Jake currently serves as bandleader of The Yalobushwackers, the house band for Thacker Mountain Radio, Oxford, Mississippi’s weekly live-audience literary radio program. In recent years, he has appeared on Prairie Home Companion, toured, and recorded as sideman for several musical acts, most notably as guitarist for Memphis gospel singer Reverend John Wilkins. Jake is also working with our friends at Dust-to-Digital to curate an anthology of Mississippi blues and gospel field recordings made by noted folklorist William R. Ferris.
We are devout believers in Dust-to-Digital, April and Lance Ledbetter’s acclaimed record label. Their first release, Goodbye, Babylon, is a testament to the Dust-to-Digital mission of archiving, producing, and reproducing high-quality, cultural artifacts.
Lance spent several years researching and compiling the collection of 135 rare gospel songs, dating from 1902 to 1960, and 25 sermons, dating from 1926 to 1941. The stories and songs included in Goodbye, Babylon are filled with Southern and religious folklore. The collection is archived on six CDs, and features recordings from below the Mason-Dixon Line – everything from string bands and gospel quartets to sacred harp choirs and shouting preachers. You might recognize some of the artists, but most of the recordings are obscure treasures.
Belle Adair. Photo: Ashton Lance
Name: Matthew Green
Band: Belle Adair
Instrument(s) you play: Guitar and bass
Place of Birth/Hometown: Muscle Shoals, Alabama
Presently residing: Tuscumbia, Alabama
Ben Sollee recording in the Mosquito Hut. Prospect, Kentucky. 2013. Photo:PMJ
Ben Sollee spent a few days this past summer trying to capture the songs and sounds that influence his life and music. The makeshift recording studio, a small house nestled in a hollow near Prospect, Kentucky, provided the backdrop for the project, a covers record, including songs by Arthur Russell, Otis Redding, Paul Simon, Harry Belafonte, The Zombies, Howard Finster, Bill Monroe, Fiona Apple, Tom Waits, and Gillian Welch. Screened porches, hallways, decks, and living rooms lend their own particular character to the recordings, and the hollow’s voice can be heard throughout: bugs chirp, birds whistle, water flows, and the wind blows. More collaborators than background, the house and hollow provide the listener with a rich audial scenery and shape Sollee’s voice and cello as he seeks to capture his own versions of the songs that have shaped his development as a musician and songwriter.
The Mosquito Hut. Prospect, Kentucky. 2013. Photo: PMJ