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SoundTRAX: "Steel Magnolias"

The cast of "Steel Magnolias" embraces in various ways.
Tri-Star Pictures

SoundTRAX is a dive into notable music from iconic films and TV shows every Monday-Thursday at 8:10.

34 years ago this month the world took a cinematic journey to small town Louisiana, where people have names like Spud, M'Lynn and Drum. A place where a tight group of quirky Southern women gossip, argue, and support each other in good times and bad.

Could it be anything else other than Steel Magnolias?

The film started as a play written by Robert Harling, whose real-life sister's battle with diabetes inspired the story. (Extra trivia: Harling also plays the minister in the movie.)

The cast is perfect, filled with icons and Oscar winners, a country music legend, and a young, soon-to-be-superstar: Sally Field, Shirley MacLaine, Olympia Dukakis, Dolly Parton, and Julia Roberts. Okay, there's also Daryl Hannah, but forgive me, I've always found her to be the weak link.

It's funny, it's sad, and if you have any Southern relatives, it's entirely likely you will be reminded of someone you know. Although none of mine ever made me a bleeding armadillo cake.

The music from the film is both wonderful and infuriating for me.

Composer George Delerue supplies some lovely tunes for the soundtrack, but naturally it's the scenes with the fun Cajun-inspired tunes that are the best, right?

My favorite scenes are from the wedding of Julia Robert's character to Dylan McDermott's character, because they're the funniest and the music is rollicking. And I was appalled to learn the fabulous version of "Jambalaya" that plays when a couple is dancing is replaced on the compilation by the slower, original version written by Hank Williams.

Now I love me some Hank, obviously, but it ain't in the movie. After a little research I learned the movie version was performed by Tommy Funderburk and I swear to you, I can not find any evidence that it exists anywhere outside the film. And I went down many a musical rabbit hole, believe me. (And lest you think this guy's a nobody, he's a 30-year music veteran who's performed on literally hundreds of recordings for everyone from Earth, Wind and Fire and Michael Jackson, to Tracy Chapman and Dwight Yoakam.)

At least we still get Wayne Toups and Zydecajun with the delightful "Two-Step Mamou", as well as my second choice for today's SoundTRAX selection, a song first released in 1902 and covered several times since— even by The Charlatans in 1996.

From Steel Magnolias, it's the great multi-instrumentalist Ry Cooder with "I Got Mine".

Mel is the WFPK morning host. Email Mel at mfisher@lpm.org.

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