Kate Campbell
From Nashville to Sledge, Journey into the Past

audio Listen to the report by David Molpus.

Aug. 2, 2001 Singer-songwriter Kate Campbell is on a mission. As she sees it, rural life is not just fading from sight, it's fading from memory. So she's set out to preserve her memories growing up in the tiny town of Sledge, Miss., NPR's David Molpus reports on Morning Edition.

Kate Campbell
Kate Campbell
Photo: Michael Wilson, Courtesy Eminent Records

Campbell can be loosely described as a country folk singer influenced by Bob Dylan -- with a twist of Al Green. Music critics have lauded the sparse but vivid details in her writing and her pure, earnest voice. A Boston Globe reviewer said simply, "If Eudora Welty wrote songs, they would probably sound a lot like this."

"Way down in me a river runs deep, reminding me just who I am. Good or bad it'll always be Mississippi and me...," she sings in Mississippi and Me, on her 1994 album Songs From the Levee.

Campbell, who now lives in Nashville, she says her early childhood years in Sledge really shaped her. She's still fascinated by the everyday rituals of people who live in such out of the way places.

On a recent visit to her Mississippi hometown, Campbell hardy recognized the place. Several stores on Sledge's main street have been reduced to piles of rubble.

The Hollywood Baptist Church
The Hollywood Baptist Church, in Sledge, Miss., where Campbell's father preached in the early 1960s.
Photo: David Molpus, NPR

Much of Campbell's music has an air of sadness and ambivalence about the South. That's especially true in her portrayals of the region's racial struggles. She's among the first generation of white southerners to have grown up entirely in integrated schools. She knows about the violence of the 1960s mostly from television replays, but feels haunted by those images and by the people who stood on the sidelines while the enforcers of segregation did their dirty work.

In her latest CD Kate Campbell sings only gospel songs -- some Baptist standards -- and some new tunes that aren't likely to make it into the hymn book anytime soon. One song imagines Jesus and the disciples belting out a soul song just after the Last Supper. Another combines three major themes of southern culture -- temptation, the devil and fishing.

Other Resources

Wandering Strange CD cover
Wandering Strange CD cover

audio Listen to 10,000 Lures from the Wandering Strange CD.

audio Listen to Last Song from Wandering Strange.

Visit Eminent Records, Campbell's record label. Song lyrics, liner notes and information on tour dates.

Visit katecampbell.com, featuring concert reviews by her fans, the "Moonpies."