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Culture Lust by Angela Carone

One of the ways I indulge my love of the south is through music.  It's perfect for what is predominantly a nostalgic, wistful remembering of a place probably best revisited through its art (and maybe Real Housewives of Atlanta ). Even when I lived in the south, my romanticized version of it eluded me, except for serendipitous moments, or when listening to certain music. That's why for years now, I've been an ardent admirer of the Oxford American magazine and, in particular, its famed southern music issue and complimentary CD.  This month, the Oxford American celebrates its 10th anniversary of publishing the music issue with a special 2-CD set featuring "past and future masters."  Blues, jazz, country, rock, rockabilly, and soul - yes, thank goodness soul - are all represented.

Today on These Days , we're talking with Marc Smirnoff, founder and editor of the Oxford American and the curator of the southern music issue. He's going to tell us about this year's picks, which include the famous and the not so famous.  Elvis Presley and Erma Franklin (Aretha had a sister with a serious voice), Lucinda Williams and Doris Duke (not the tobacco heiress but a criminally forgotten soul singer).  One of the best articles in the magazine is the story of Elton and Betty White, an unlikely couple from Little Rock, Arkansas who became cult favorites because of their street performances and sexually explicit, but sweet music. 

Elton and Betty White

Elton and Betty White.  Photo by:  Katie Callan

Betty was thirty years older than Elton, who she met after leaving her conservative life with a husband of 36 years, propelled by her desire for freedom and a diagnosed case of schizophrenia.  Betty lived in a car and on the streets until she met Elton eating dinner at a rescue mission.  He had been a promising basketball star, a college standout who landed a tryout with the Atlanta Hawks.  A severe knee injury ended his career in one fatal blow and he returned to Little Rock, where soon after his mind started to change and he too began living out of a car.  The night they met, Elton walked Betty home to the shelter where she was staying and the next night they met again for dinner.  After that second meal, they moved in together.   I'll leave the rest of the remarkable story for you to discover in the Oxford American, but let me say its highlights include a gubernatorial bid by Betty...against none other than Bill Clinton, a public access television series, and Venice Beach stardom!  The heartwarming love story of Betty and Elton is one I won't forget any time soon.  You'll find it fascinating.

Here's a list of the music we're playing today. Again, it's just a sampling of the treasures in this edition of Oxford American's southern music issue.

Erma Franklin:  Baby, I Love You

Little Walter:  I Hate to See You Go

Doris Duke:  Divorce Decree

Elton and Betty White:  Heat

Elton and Betty White: A Jelly Behind Woman Blows My Mind

Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown:  Fiddlin Around

Big Star:  For You

Lucinda Williams:  Something About What Happens When We Talk

Charlie Rich:  Feel Like Going Home

The Elton and Betty White article is not the only piece of quality writing in this issue. I also liked the articles on Doris Duke and Neko Case -- and there are more stories of broken, down-and-out bluesmen to fill your imaginary honky tonk.  And lastly, Charlie Rich's demo version of Feel Like Going Home - the final song on the second CD and the song we close with on the show today - well, it cuts through all the clutter, leaving you with a beautifully spare look at despair and refuge.  

Keetha from Winona, Mississippi
February 04, 2009 at 05:02 PM
Great post. I look forward each year to the Oxford American's music issue.

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