The Ozarks

After Sundown

May 2022

The Black Legacy Project will travel to the Ozarks of Northwest Arkansas in May 2022, exploring the rich history of folk music and Black and White race-relations in this famous mountain region. While largely known for its lush natural landscapes, as a haven for country artists and music lovers, the wildly popular eponymous Netflix series, and for being the home of “Walmart,” the Ozarks provides rich opportunities to explore the roots and contributions of Black and White folk music to today’s musical soundscape. In addition, the Ozarks was the site of historic acts of racial exclusion, expulsion, violence, and segregation, of which some local communities are seeking to reconcile and overcome. These attributes are what brings the Black LP to the region.

 

The theme for the Black LP OZARKS is After Sundown. In the roundtable discussions and musical interpretations, Black and White community members will revisit the historic use and threat of violence to remove and exclude Black Americans from white communities and uphold segregation, and explore how to advance present efforts to bring diversity & belonging to these communities. This project will examine and reinterpret the songs “Sundown Town” by Ry Cooder and “What is the Color of the Soul of a Man?” by Ozark music legend, Jimmy Driftwood. 

 

“Sundown Town” is a soulful expression of the pain and trauma inflicted upon Black Americans by Sundown Towns, the name given to communities that threatened and used violence as a means to exclude and expel Black folks from predominantly White communities. The song was written in 2007 by Ry Cooder and is sung and performed with Terry Evans and Bobby King, a trio of Black and White artists who revere the roots and evolution of American roots music genres, including gospel, blues, and rock. “Sundown Town” comes from Cooder’s album, “My Name is Buddy,” which promotes messages of unity, racial justice, civil and workers’ rights, while creatively exploring the experiences of migrants from Arkansas and other parts of the Mid-South as they traveled west in the first half of the 20th century. 

 

“What is the Color of the Soul of a Man?” is a song written by the award-winning folk-music legend, activist, and educator James Corbitt Morris, aka Jimmy Driftwood. Born in the eastern Ozark mountains of Northeastern Arkansas, Driftwood wrote over 6,000 folk songs, giving a voice to life in Ozarks. More than 300 of his songs have been covered by various artists. Released in 1963 on Driftwood’s album “Voice of the People”, “What is the Color of the Soul of a Man?” analyzes and questions the division, exclusion, and dehumanization of communities on the basis of race.   

 

Both “Sundown Town” and “What is the Color of the Soul of a Man” express the devastation that race-based expulsion, exclusion, and de-humanization has left on the hearts and lives of Americans. Although they were written almost 40 years apart from each other, the songs echo the same call made by artists and activists throughout various points of history to heal the divisions between Black and White Americans and co-create a nation where everyone belongs. 

 

Local White artists will reinterpret “Sundown Town”, a song originally performed by Black artists, and local Black artists will reinterpret “What is the Color of the Soul of a Man?”, a song written and traditionally performed by White artists. Upon completion, local Black and White artists will work together to write and record a song that offers actionable steps for dismantling the othering embodied in sundown towns and for advancing diversity and belonging in communities with a history and culture of race-based exclusion.