- Front Porch
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I was a high school student in 1970s northeastern Arkansas when my sister Jamie left home for college at Vanderbilt in Nashville. Quickly, we were pulled back into her force field as she sent news of exciting work at the intersection of social justice, health care, and labor by the innovative sounds of New Grass revival groups she was listening to at clubs like the Station Inn, and delicious excursions for crispy fried chicken, cathead biscuits, and homemade blackberry preserves at the Loveless Café. I was mesmerized by her newfound political passions and the strong activist community at Vanderbilt’s Student Health Coalition (1969) and the Center for Health Services (1971) that taught her the basics of organizing and health care issues faced by workers in the Appalachian coal mining counties of East Tennessee, Eastern Kentucky, and Southwest Virginia. I would also learn that Jamie met Bill Dow, a founder of these initiatives at Vanderbilt, who later became a doctor and organic farmer and went on to found the North Carolina Agricultural Marketing Project that created our nationally renowned Carrboro Farmers’ Market in 1977.1
Throughout my sister’s experience in Central and East Tennessee, where she began her post-collegiate career in labor organizing at the United Furniture Workers of America, she encountered a sonic world of protest—in music and words—that our family quickly embraced. We learned of Jamie’s long friendship with Anne Romaine, an organizer, singer, and promoter of southern folk music. As a child in Gastonia, North Carolina, where her grandparents worked in the local cotton mills, Romaine absorbed the city’s musical traditions as well as its violent history of labor activism, including the deadly Loray Mill Strike of 1929, where union sympathizer and ballad singer Ella May Wiggins was killed. Anne Romaine was at my sister’s wedding in the early 1990s—a great mix of southern Jewishness, klezmer, and enthusiastic, young union organizers turned “chuppah holders” that lifted the tallit, or wedding canopy, over the bridal couple. In our little Arkansas synagogue, dominated by decidedly non-union owners of small garment factories, we’ll always remember the family friend at the wedding who quipped, “The only good union is this kind of union.”
Tragically, Romaine died unexpectedly in 1995. Her life and work are evocatively profiled here in Joseph M. Thompson’s essay, “Nostalgia for Utopia: Anne Romaine’s Folk Music Protest in the New Left South,” one of the many powerful essays that examines southern music and protest in this special issue, guest-edited by longtime friend of Southern Cultures, folklorist, writer, and music producer Brendan Greaves. In 2010, Brendan founded Paradise of Bachelors, a record label dedicated to documenting, curating, and releasing “musics of the American vernacular,” with an emphasis on the South. Beyond music, Brendan is deeply involved in the arts, and earlier worked at the North Carolina Arts Council, where he collaborated with artists and communities on public art, cultural tourism, and arts-driven economic development projects.2
In this issue, Greaves has curated a fascinating collection of voices within the [End Page 2] world of southern music that examine protest from many perspectives. He kicks us off with his own reflection on the intertwined histories of protest and music in “Protest and the Southern Imaginary: What I Learned from Gay Country, Communist Disco, and a Choctaw Poet’s Sermon on Immigration.” From there, Douglas Mcgowan, Max Fraser, and Samuel K. Byrd introduce us to performers who embody protest both on and off the stage. In “Jackie Shane: It’s Just, ‘Yes Ma’am, No Ma’am,’” an interview with 1960s soul artist Jackie Shane, Mcgowan notes that Shane “hates interviews, but loves to talk.” Here, they discuss powerful photographs from the liner notes of Shane’s...