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Music Brings Us Together

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By Charles Morgan III

 

There is an ancient Chinese curse—“May you live in interesting times.”

 

It might not sound like a curse, but the implication is that times of chaos and tumult are not something to be desired.

 

We live in a time of tremendous divisiveness and turmoil. We’ve been there before. In 1968, our country suffered through the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy.

 

The Viet Nam war was at its peak. In many parts of the country, the integration of public schools was met with indignation and violence. Major cities burned as riots became commonplace. George Wallace ran for president. Richard Nixon was elected as our leader. Young people turned on and tuned out and flaunted traditional social mores.

 

We got through that.

 

The angst in our country today is partly generational, but it’s also geographical. It has to do with increasingly divided economic classes of people, but it also has to do with a large part of the population felling helpless. Unlike 50 years ago, it is fed by a barrage of social media platforms that could never have been imagined. Tuning out is no longer an option.

 

We’ll get through this.

 

The way that we will survive these “interesting times” is not by blasting forward with revolutionary plans to shake up our country. Our best chance at getting to a better place is going to be much more traditional and much less dramatic.

 

We need to look back to the past. We need to take deep breaths. We need to put one foot in front of the other. We need to remember what kinds of things bring us together.

 

The recent Ken Burns documentary on country music showed the impact that music had on the fabric of our country. The roots of country music—100 years ago—came from the Scotch/Irish influence in the Appalachian Mountains, the early black musicians throughout the south, and the poor white tenant farming southerners who used music as an escape from the drudgery of abject poverty.

 

Jazz music—“America’s gift to the world”—is our truly indigenous art form. Blues, which is drawn from African traditions and spiritual works, was created in the deep south. Both genres came from our part of the country, and the music is performed and enjoyed by all classes of people.

 

There are many things that divide us. Music brings us together.

 

I’ve walked through college towns and marveled when a jacked-up pickup truck with white fraternity boys would roll past with rap songs blaring from their stereo. The song playing was likely “Old Town Road” a hip-hop song by Lil Nas X, a 19-year-old gay, black man. It is now the most popular country song in history.

 

Art bring us together, also. The Kentuck Festival in Northport, Alabama, is one the highest ranked outsider/folk arts festival in the country. Jimmy Lee Sudduth from Fayette, Alabama, showed there. Sudduth painted with his fingers, learned to write so he could sign his paintings, and before he died had his art displayed in the most prominent galleries in this country.

 

Mose Tolliver, from Montgomery, never made it past the third grade. But his paintings are hanging in galleries all over the world.

 

Woodie Long was one of 12 children and grew up in a family of migrant farmers. He painted houses before he turned to art. He settled in the Florida Panhandle and produced beautiful art until he died.

 

Sports brings us together unlike anything else.

 

In Alabama, where the governor once stood in the schoolhouse door, and where segregation was the law of the land less than 60 years ago, football still reigns supreme. But boy, does it look different.

 

No longer are the students at the University of Alabama all white. The student body is made up of people from countries around the world and more than 4,000 black students. The football team isn’t all white anymore either.

 

There is a big game this weekend in Tuscaloosa. Alabama is the #1 ranked team in the country. Again. This Saturday there will be Alabama fans around the country pulling for the Crimson Tide.

 

Those fans will come from all walks of life, comprise every ethnicity, and represent all parts of our country. Just like the football team.

 

This Saturday, for four hours, there will be millions of people who could care less about the Ukraine, or immigrants, or nuclear proliferation, or a border wall, or Wall Street millionaires. They’ll be rooting for Alabama (maybe a few people will pull for LSU) But mostly, they’ll be pulling together.

 

So here’s to music and art and athletics. And anything else that can bring us together.

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