Reginald D Hunter’s Songs of the South, TV review: His perspective makes this essential viewing for music fans

Hunter retains not only an easy Southern charm, but also a wariness of what he calls 'hillbillies, the deadly kind'

Stand-up comedian Reginald D Hunter has had more success with his career change.

In Reginald D Hunter’s Songs of the South, he turned travelling music historian, cruising round Tennessee and Kentucky, in a red convertible Cadillac. A Georgia native, who’s been living in Britain since 1997, Hunter retains not only an easy Southern charm, but also a wariness of what he calls “hillbillies, the deadly kind”, so this was never going to be a straightforward homecoming.

Actually, it’s Hunter’s particular perspective that makes this essential viewing for anyone even remotely interested in music (country, bluegrass, blues, rock and hip-hop are all covered over the course of a three-part series). For him, the culture of Dixie is both familiar and alienating: “When I lived here, I see that I lived primarily in the black South and those are two different Souths.”

Still, Hunter went to Knoxville to feel the lonesome chill of Southern gothic, found his childhood memories of Spam offered common ground with Dolly Parton and, in the episode’s most fascinating section, confronted the disturbing legacy of minstrelsy. Blackface is hardly America’s proudest tradition, but as one musician argued, it can’t be ignored. Songs like Stephen Foster’s “Swanee River” were wildly popular for over 80 years – that’s a longer history than rock’n’roll.

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