And the Grammy Goes to...
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Written by Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau   
Tuesday, June 04, 2019 08:00 AM

Bill Ferris is no stranger to citations, recognition, and awards. But last month he took home one of the greatest – a Grammy. Not just one actually, but two — one for Best Historical Album and the other for Best Album Notes. The 120-page book covers three decades of Ferris’s work, and as a result, he said, “It connects the otherwise disparate voices of musicians, artists, and storytellers I’ve worked with over the years.”

Historical Trail Marker

That’s not all. On May 28, 2019, he received a Mississippi Blues Trail Marker designation in Vicksburg, his home town. A grateful community came out in support of the marker, only the sixth in Vicksburg. More information about the trail can be found at www.msbluestrail.org.

J. Kempf Poole, Chairman of the Mississippi Blues Commission said this about Bill: “He is a Mississippi son and recognized as a renowned professor, author, and now a Grammy award winner. How fitting to receive the Grammy alongside the many Blues artists he has chronicled over his career.”

 

The Southern Part of Heaven

Bill Ferris – or, more accurately, Dr. William R. Ferris – was, until his retirement last year, a professor of history at UNC-Chapel Hill and an adjunct professor in the Curriculum in Folklore. He was Associate Director of the Center for the Study of the American South and remains widely recognized as a leader in Southern studies, African-American music, and folklore. Ferris was also the former chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, and served as the founding director of the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi, where he was a faculty member for 18 years.

 

Keeper of Southern Folklore

In an interview with Davia Nelson & Nikki Silva, producers of the James Beard and duPont-Columbia Award-winning NPR series Hidden Kitchens, and two Peabody Award-winning NPR series, Ferris talked about the importance of keepers.

“Keepers is an important word. What do we keep? How will our memories be kept? One of the most tragic things for people is to be forgotten. Blind Lemon Jefferson sang, “One kind favor I ask of you. See that my grave is kept swept clean.” The keepers of our culture are sweeping those graves, never forgetting the worlds that form our lives as individuals, as communities, as a nation, and as a globe.” 

Ferris and his wife Marcie are Chapel Hill residents, with strong ties to the community, the University, and giving back. They are both mentors to the next generation of folklorists, speaking at local events in Chapel Hill and around the country. And they can be seen meandering hand-in-hand at the local Farmer’s Market. 

Here they are surrounded by family, friends and – importantly – dogs. There is no other couple with a stronger desire to maintain the true character of our historic southern neighborhoods alive. They realize these neighborhoods are a vital element of not just the South but American culture as a whole.

 

A Prolific Author, Folklorist, Filmmaker and Professor

And his career has been phenomenal. Ferris has written and edited 10 books and created 15 documentary films, most of which deal with African-American music and other folklore representing the Mississippi Delta. He co-edited the Pulitzer Prize nominee Encyclopedia of Southern Culture (UNC Press, 1989), which contains entries on every aspect of Southern culture and is widely recognized as a major reference work linking popular, folk, and academic cultures.

His work has been identified as what he calls "the global south." The ambition that lies at the heart of this concept is simple and profound: “We are not separate, neither by color nor culture. Do not believe that old lie.”

 

Matters of the Heart

"Nothing changes," Ferris says. "It's the old matters of the heart. I find myself falling back on those voices and the people I've been privileged to meet along the way: the famous and not-so-famous, the B.B. Kings, the Eudora Weltys, prison inmates, mule traders, auctioneers, quilt makers. They're all a part of a common picture."

It’s a picture we would never see without the priceless work of Dr. William Ferris – the Mississippi native Chapel Hill now calls as one of our own.

Ferris articulates his vision with a charming Mississippi drawl, and with his characteristic humility: “My films capture voices of people as they describe their life. They may explain how they sew a quilt or talk with a neighbor about what the day looks like from their front porch. There’s a beauty and power to everyday life, and I aspire to capture that with film. I may not achieve all I hoped, but at least I glimpse a bit of that life.”


 Visit These Sites to Enjoy the Work of Bill Ferris

Books:

Films:

 A Southern Trilogy