Vital Signs

Music for Southern Independence

Every form of original American music in the 20th century began in the South: bluegrass, country, western, jazz, blues, rockabilly, and rock ’n’ roll.  Even rap, pop, and heavy metal have been successful because they, in some way, use or imitate a Southern musical element.  These styles, if they can be called that, started out as small clusters of unknown musicians who managed to create their own subcultures in which they could market their talents.

Most alternative musicians never see success.  One style, however, that has risen in popularity over the last 15 years is “neo-Confederate” music.  Hundreds of musicians tour the South playing nothing but Confederate War songs—in music shops, country stores, pickin’ parlors, barns (for dances), recital halls, civic centers, schools, historical and political ceremonies, living-history events, and war reenactments.  Some of them even find themselves on NPR, C-SPAN, or in documentaries.

Some of this success can be credited to the boom of popular history; strictly historical music, however, cannot go on forever.  At some point, something new must emerge—something that tells a story that people recognize as reflecting their own experience in their own time—which, nonetheless includes a response to the popular outcry for a knowledge of our history and its virtues.  A few performers, such as the Rebelaires...

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