Oxford American profiles Bill Wilson, Ranky Tanky, Benny Starr in latest issue

This year's southern music issue focuses on S.C. artists exclusively

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Astronaut and saxophonist Ronald McNair appears on the cover of this year's southern music issue - COURTESY OF THE OXFORD AMERICAN
  • Courtesy of the Oxford American
  • Astronaut and saxophonist Ronald McNair appears on the cover of this year's southern music issue
The annual music issue for southern culture magazine Oxford American shipped at the beginning of this month, and it’s all about our home state.

The 21st edition of Oxford American's music issue features articles on and music by Lowcountry artists Ranky Tanky, Iron & Wine, Danielle Howle, Jump, Little Children, Shovels & Rope, Bill Wilson, and Benny Starr.

While the splashy cover’s list of megastars initially invoked some fear that the writers at Oxford would only play the hits (Eartha Kitt, Dizzy Gillespie, Marshall Tucker Band) in their coverage, there’s a decent amount of deserving lesser-knowns swimming around the interior.



Genius Productions’ rare underground track “Hyper Than Dope,” receives a lengthy essay, authored by Dave Tompkins, titled “Lowcountry for Old Heads.” In it, DJ Wizard (Matt Jones) talks about his late-’80s hip-hop days in Charleston, set in the days leading up to Hurricane Hugo’s descent on the coast.

Ranky Tanky’s new-ish single “Freedom” kicks off the magazine’s accompanying playlist, Iron and Wine & Ben Bridwell perform a cover of the Talking Heads’ “This Must be the Place (Naive Melody),” and Danielle Howle’s turn-of-the-century song “Cut a Rug” lands in the middle of the tracklist.

Local legend Bill Wilson’s “Take me to the Sky,” from his debut album Stand Up! sits next to Benjamin Starr’s “Resurrection” late in the collection’s run. For his article, Starr composed an essay about his own rebirth as an artist, following his decision to move back to the Lowcountry.
Near the issue’s end, Shovels & Rope provide 40 notes on being a band, partners in life, and parents — plus, they provide their song “Mary Ann & One Eyed Dan.”

Lowcountry pop singer Diaspoura does not provide music, but she does provide a reason in an essay titled “Why I Didn’t Give my Music to the Oxford American.”

“I asked the editor if all artists on the compilation could be paid a licensing fee in exchange for letting the Oxford American sell their music with the publication, which he then said wasn’t possible,” Diaspoura wrote. “His response acknowledged my experience, music, and activism, but somehow not the irony of profiting from a song which is written about the glorified abuse of queer, poor, Southern, Black, and Brown artists.”

In response to the essay, Oxford American editor Eliza Borné, wrote that they are “committed to working with my colleagues and the OA’s stakeholders to evaluate our gratis model for the compilation and find a way to implement a more equitable way forward.”

Recently, Diaspoura has become an activist for artists’ rights, advocating for better pay, particularly from streaming services. Their Rally for Artists’ Rights became a national event for musicians to openly discuss their problems with fair payment.
Thumbing through the magazine, readers can find plenty of history lessons on S.C.’s legends. Astronaut and saxophonist Ronald McNair, who died in the Challenger explosion in 1986, is seen on the cover playing his instrument of choice in zero gravity, and a heartfelt article on his life and legacy is penned in the issue’s back-half.

Essays on jazz hero Dizzy Gillespie and musician-actress Eartha Kitt, plus articles on newer hit-makers like Toro Y Moi can also be found.

Plus, there are some local writing and visual arts contributors, including Redux studio artist Katherine Dunlap, whose image, "We Made It," can be found on the opening spread of "The Music of South Carolina." Baynard Woods lives in Baltimore, but he's a former City Paper contributor. You can find his essay in this issue, "Esquerita and the Voola," about Little Richard. 

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