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Oral History

In: Business and Management

Submitted By btsmith9
Words 911
Pages 4
B Smith
March 30, 2013
Oral History S/St 102

The Clash Between Sacred and Secular in Southern Music

To be sacred is said to be deserving of reverence and respect. There are many manifestations of the “sacred” across the planet and even beyond. Such as a boy may value his grandfather’s old watch as sacred, another might view a cross as sacred, while others view even the sun, moon, and the stars as sacred. The South is no stranger to the sacred, but actually overflowing with sacred objects and ideas. One form of the “sacred” that certainly must not be overlooked or overheard is the music of the south, especially in the Magnolia State. The birthplace of America’s music, the South has produced multiple musical legends that shaped music as a large part of the world hears it today. The intriguing part of southern music’s sacredness is its relationship with the secular or “anti-sacred”. The turn of the 20th century was an important time in the history of southern music. Indigenous African music had mixed with Christian hymns and traditions to create spirituals, which would transform into gospel music. Around the same time, the legendary Robert Johnson is selling his soul to the devil for a guitar and a dirty new sound- the blues. While gospel songs exclaiming the glory of the return of
Jesus were being sung in the churches, underneath tents, and by the river at baptisms; bluesmen were on street corners and in juke joints belting out tales of murder, adultery, and temptation in between pulls of rye whiskey. As these two early genres collided, their sounds morphed into country music and rock n’ roll. Although the sound of the music transformed, the connection to both the sacred and the profane remained. It only seems right that the next person to come along and revolutionize American music would be from a small town not too far from the same crossroads where Robert Johnson made his deal with the devil. This would of course be the Tupelo born Elvis Presley, one of America’s first rock icons. Presley certainly had an affiliation with both the “sacred” and the “profane”, and perhaps this was key to his success. Elvis connected with the “sacred” through his various gospel records, but that is not to say that he did not have a wild side. Elvis enjoyed black man’s style of the time wearing suits that would be hard to find in a white man’s closet, and treated his hair like a black man. The white community deemed this type of behavior profane during an extremely vicious time of race relations in America and especially the South. As time has continued, so has music. The styles created by these early musicians are clearly evident in the music we see today. It seems though that music has become increasingly profane, as music has evolved. This oral history gives an account of how something as profane as today’s music can still be held as “sacred”. Jonathan Peters is a musician from New Albany, Mississippi. I watched his band, Riverside Voodoo, open for a bigger act at the Lyric this past semester. Voodoo’s style reflects southern bands such as Widespread Panic and the Allman Brothers- bluesy improvisation with a little bit of funkiness thrown in to keep the crowd grooving. I also felt like the word “Voodoo” in the band’s name was a good example of the profane’s manifestation in southern rock. After the show I got in touch with “JP” (as his band mates call him) through a friend of a friend. Before we met for the recording JP wanted to have a drink and discuss the project at Soulshine Pizza Factory. Soulshine is known for its good blues music so we enjoyed discussing the different songs we heard along with the live music. I was very glad we got to do this because I think the interview would have been a little awkward if we had not. We decided to meet for the recording at JP’s house where he lives with another member of Riverside Voodoo. Ironically enough his house was an old church that had been converted into a home. JP and I discussed his musical beginnings, influences, and his ideas on the profane and sacred in his music, and how something that could be sacred to he or myself could be profane to someone else. I feel like my knowledge of southern music, especially blues, was pertinent to the topic and to the project. I think I made it clear to JP at Soulshine that I knew what I was talking about when it came to southern rock n’ roll, and this helped out a lot. There were a couple things that did go wrong with the interview however. For starters I feel like there were times that JP started rambling, and I was not able to get as much solid information as I wanted. Another problem was that I ran out of questions and the interview fell a little short. I expected JP to talk a little more than he did, so next time I will have more questions prepared.
However, JP was able to give me some solid information on how a southern musician connects with both the profane and the sacred in his music. Most importantly to me is that I made a new friend that really shares a love for southern music just as I do.

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