August 3, 2011

Starting this week, Southernness is launching something crazily obsessive but we hope fun for you to explore. We’ve set ourselves the goal of celebrating 2,012 different people, places and things that are great, SOUTHERN ORIGINALS. We will trumpet them here from now until New Year’s Day, 2012. We are hereby designating 2012: THE YEAR OF SOUTHERN ORIGINALS.

The blog entries will be shorter but with each one we hope to provide a link where you can find out more. Like everything we do at Southernness, these are going to be fun, positive and distinctively Southern. So, starting here, starting now, y’all, in no particular order are:


1) The Drawl of Fame

2) Johnny Mercer, Savannah born songwriter of “That Old Black Magic,” “Moon River,” and hundreds of other classy, classic musical treasures

3) The outline of William Faulkner’s novel, “As I Lay Dying,” the Nobel-winning author penciled on the plaster walls of his home in Oxford, Mississippi

4) Old-Fashioned Sweet Potato Pie

5) Turducken, yessiree, a turkey stuffed with a duck that’s been stuffed with a chicken. Famed, Louisiana chef, Paul Prudhomme’s exquisite culinary gift that keeps on giving. Here’s a CNN exclusive on Turducken with Anderson Cooper and Chef Paul

6) Toe-Dipping christenings at Southern lakes

7) Lazy Susan tabletops, one of many furniture innovations from The South. We especially like the ones made of native, Southern woods by Lee Chesson, a master woodworking native of Goldsboro, North Carolina.

Y’all Be Y’all,

Ben South at Southernness



July 17, 2011

The Summer of 2011 is proving to be a record-breaking scorcher in Birmingham and much of The South. The stultifying heat inspired Southernness to dream of a signature “Birmingham Cooler” libation. As we began talking with local bartenders and cocktail enthusiasts we asked the question, “What is essential for THE Birmingham cocktail?” The overwhelming answer was two required elements: 1) The Birmingham Cocktail has to be cold, because it’s frequently so danged hot. And, 2) it has to have a refreshing splash of local, Buffalo Rock Southern Spice Ginger Ale.

Buffalo Rock Ginger Ale, a true Southern Original, was concocted in Birmingham around 1901. The original spice recipe came from a Selma druggist, Ashby Coleman, who used it to soothe the stomach cramps of Confederate soldiers. After the War Between The States, that “recent unpleasantness” as it was called, druggist Coleman’s daughter, Minnie, married Sidney Wood Lee of Birmingham and introduced the Lee Family to the recipe. The Lees added peppy carbonation to the the spicey, peppery blend and another Southern, soft drink dynasty was born.

Silvertron Cafe, a long-established, Birmingham watering-hole and Southernness favorite, is introducing the Buffalo Rock-centric “Birmingham Cocktail” later this week. The whole city will be voting on a name for the drink and deciding the exact formulation. You’ll be the first to know this new “Southern Original” on the Southernness blog and we’ll try to get Silvertron to let us share the recipe. What we can guarantee you is whatever the selected drink is, it’s gonna be cooling and it’s gonna have uplifting, Southern original, Buffalo Rock.

Y’all Be Y’all,

Ben South at Southernness


July 11, 2011

If you want to make a joyful noise unto the Lord, there couldn’t be too many ways more satisfying than playing one of the many hit records of “The Happy Goodman Family.”  The group had wonderful harmony but Miz Vestal was the undisputed star and “The Queen of Southern Gospel” with a mile-high, gravity-defying hairdo crown and a big, glorious voice to match.    
Vestal Goodman was from up in Sand Mountain, Alabama not far from our family farm.  When she was a young girl, she toyed with joining the Metropolitan Opera but then she got the spirit to do something more original for the glory of God.  Anytime y’all need a pick-me-up, youtube Miz V singing “Wouldn’t Take Nothin’ For My Journey, Now,” or my favorite is her playful sing-off with famed tenor, Johnny Cook, on “Lookin’ For A City.”  Vestal Goodman died just a few years ago in a Southern town called, Celebration, after a loving family, Christmas homecoming.  Long live “The Queen.”

Y’all Be Y’all,
Ben South at Southernness


July 5, 2011

Mississippi produces potters like Italy produces saints, but at the top of the mudpile is the self-proclaimed “Mad Potter of Biloxi,” George E. Ohr.  Certainly, with his bugged eyes and his mustache wrapped around his head and tied in the back, this father of American Abstract-Expressionism looked the part.  Ohr, the son of a German blacksmith up from New Orleans, was born in Biloxi in 1857 and died there in 1918 after flingin’ 10,000 pots.
All Southern Originals don’t have the advanced case of eccentricity of George Ohr nor necessarily his celebrated creative gifts.  During his lifetime, folks thought he was crazy for asking $25, the equivalent of $500 today for his wildly experimental ceramics.  He may not have been twisted, but his art was.  Ohr pottery is a magical, mystical mashup of adventurous glazes and pinched, often asymmetrical forms.  George Ohr dug much of the clay he used from the same pottery pits originally used by native Mississippians.  At Southernness, we dig this Southern Original and would welcome him to make a mudpie in the Love Y’all Forever Cafe and day of the week and wouldn’t even require a mustache net.
The Ohr-OKeefe Museum of Art in Biloxi, designed to showcase a large collection of Ohr’s “madmud,” is a new work of art itself.  An imaginative cluster of pinched-form buildings comprise the museum campus designed by American “starchitect,” Frank Gehry.  Plan your trip beginning at www.georgeohr.org
Y’all Be Y’all,
Ben South at Southernness


June 26, 2011

Summer, 2011

“Y’all Get Back Now,” is Big Freedia’s new single. It’s New Orleans “bounce music” and it’s thumpin’ the dance floors across America. This NOLA musician was born Freddie Ross but as Big Freedia, she–Ross identifies as a belle–is a strict dancehall mistress. Big Freedia’s not like a traditional hip-hop m.c., she’s mo’ Jazzercise than Jay-Z. Chug some coffee and some black-bottom pie, then roll up the rug and do what she tells ya: “Bounce it to the floor.” “Tune it up.” “Dribble it, y’all.”  That Southernness is introducing our devotees to Big Freedia may have some hittin’ the swoonin’ couch but it’s definitely gonna add fun this season. Backfield in motion. Don’t make Big Freedia have to penalize you. Let’s bounce again like we did last summer, Honeychilde.

Y’all be y’all,

Ben South


June 20, 2011

I had heard that my friend and a favorite, Southern storyteller, Kathryn Tucker Windham was gravely ill and so I paused a moment and chicken-scratched her a “Bless Your Heart” note and readied it to mail last Saturday night. My mother called the next day to say Mrs. Windham had passed away. I left the card in the basket by the door. Her obituary in the New York Times, which would have pleased but not surprised her, said she “wove a tapestry of Southern folklore, bucolic scenes, reminiscences, cherished recipes and ghost stories” in her many books and on National Public Radio. She wrote about characters and she was one. A great, “Southern Original.” She’d started her writing career at 12-years old offering her moving picture reviews for her uncle’s small town newspaper. She was still conjuring up stories this past year at 93. Her ghost stories, especially about her house’s own apparition, Jeffrey, were her biggest hits. They are engaging tales to read, but I’m sorry you only have her honeyed-drawl now on youtube. But, at least we have that.  Sample one and be prepared to slow down and savor her Alabama speech as if you were sipping a tall glass of sweet tea and she was weaving another story out on the porch. Mrs. Windham enjoyed the old-fashioned goofiness of playing tunes with a wax paper and a comb. She and I talked about doing a classy duet where she’d play her signature instrument and I’d play mine, pennies on a pie tin. The next time I do a parlor concert, I’ll play a bit of “I’ll Fly Away” in her memory and figure she and Jeffrey will be up there writing up a review for me to collect later. I mailed the card onto her this week even though I knew she had been placed in the handmade coffin she had a local woodworker build maybe ten years ago. In Kathryn Tucker Windham’s world the dead are not dead and the past is not past. Fly away to glory, you fun, dear, Southern Original.

THE YAMBILEE QUEEN and MISS TURKEY TROT — Southern Original Small-Town Pageants

June 13, 2011

The South is known for beauties and beauty pageants. Back when it mattered, Miss Mississippi had a lock on the Miss America pageant for maybe thirty years. But my favorites are the fun ones that celebrate the local-est of things. Every year there’s a Yambilee Queen down in Opelousas, Louisiana and a Miss Turkey Trot in Mt. Judea, Arkansas. Arkansas also has a Queen Mallard in the little town of Stuttgart. Here’s hopin’ the Queen Mallard beauty duckwalks like Chuck Berry, her escort has a honkin’ DA and her dog’s a prize retriever.

Y’all be y’all,

Ben South at Southernness