August 30, 2021

Traveling Up South for the Annual Music Issue

The 23rd annual edition celebrates the great migration of Southern sound

This year, the Oxford American is thrilled to announce that our annual music issue will focus on the Southern influence on American music beyond our region’s borders, reimagining these far-flung locales as Up South.

By the end of the 20th century, some six million Southerners had left their homes for New York, Detroit, Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Syracuse, Oakland, Milwaukee, Newark, Gary, and more. Each city transformed as the new denizens brought home with them. This year’s theme uniquely expands our historic coverage of Southern states, making the case that any map of American music should firmly place the South at its center.

The Oxford American’s annual Southern music issue has long held special meaning for our readers, many of whom collect it, eagerly anticipate it, and enthusiastically tell us what we get right (and wrong) every year. In its first issue in 1997, editors said there would be no possible way to create a “comprehensive” issue; they would instead give readers “much to return to,” an exciting mix of music and points of view to consider again and again. Now in its twenty-third installment, the project remains ambitious—a portal to an eclectic world of art and beauty forged and rooted in our complex region.

Travel Up South with our 23rd Annual Music Issue

Pre-order now

When Louis Armstrong moved to Chicago to play second cornet, he joined a group of transplants, including King Oliver and Lil Hardin, and played to audiences full of other transplants. Port Arthur, Texas-born Janis Joplin brought her blues to San Francisco. The Motor City called Berry Gordy’s parents from Georgia and Joseph and Katherine Jackson up from Arkansas and Alabama. In New York City, Johnny Pacheco, Celia Cruz, and Héctor Lavoe’s experiments with brass, congas, son cubano, mambo, and bomba gave way to salsa. 

The Up South issue reflects this movement of sounds, foodways, and aesthetics from the South into the nation’s farthest corners. We believe the South is more than just one fixed space on a map; it moves, it changes; it is something we can feel. Through essays, dispatches, and playlists curated by an exceptional lineup of musicians and writers, this issue explores the spread of Southern sounds and aesthetics elsewhere, tracing the region's influence in Motown, Chicago gospel, and Philly soul, spanning the West Coast to Paris and beyond.

Contributors are expats with Southern roots, Southerners who left home and returned, second and third generation Southerners, Southerners who stayed put and kept creating. Terence Blanchard, Leon Bridges, and Sub Pop’s Jonathan Poneman reflect on what the South gave their music and the world; OA veterans Dave Ramsey, Alice Randall, and Rebecca Bengal remember Southern-inflected music scenes in Illinois, Maryland, and Michigan; first-time OA contributors including Grammy winner Lynell George and Peabody-nominated radio producer Alex Lewis trace the influence of Southern migrants on their lives, hearts, and work in Los Angeles and Philadelphia.

From 2009 until 2015, and from 2017-2019, the OA’s music issue featured a different Southern state each year (we’ve covered ArkansasAlabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, TennesseeTexasGeorgiaKentucky, and the Carolinas). In 2016, we departed from the series to examine “Visions of the Blues” with cover subjects representing the genre’s past, present, and future. Last year, we published a “Greatest Hits” edition guest edited by Grammy-winning musician Brittany Howard, who selected her favorite music issue pieces of all time and published new stories on iconic musicians like Sister Rosetta Tharpe, David Hood, and LaVern Baker. 

Our 2021 music issue celebrates the music of Up South across a 160-page magazine packed with visual art, liner notes, essays, profiles, Q&As, and more. We are thrilled to announce that the Up South issue will include a free companion CD in addition to several curated Spotify playlists. Stay tuned for more information about this exclusive supplement to the issue.

Copies of the Up South Music Issue will mail to subscribers and customers who pre-order on November 23, 2021. The issue will be available on newsstands on December 7, 2021. Order your copy here

Or, subscribe to the Oxford American by visiting OxfordAmerican.org/subscribe. For bulk orders, contact info@oxfordamerican.org.