Q

Folklore as a political act: William Ferris on preserving Mississippi Delta blues

Folklorist William Ferris talks about recording and capturing the memories of musicians in the American South in the '60s and '70s.
Folklorist William Ferris recorded and captured the memories of musicians in the American South in the '60s and '70s. (Submitted by William Ferris)
Listen19:14

For the better part of a century, folklorist William Ferris has been chronicling life in the American South.

In the 1960s and 1970s, he toured around Mississippi and the southern U.S. to make field recordings of mostly black musicians in their communities, churches and homes.

Now, some of these recordings have been compiled into a collection called Voices of Mississippi​, for which Ferris has earned a Grammy nomination for best historical album.

Ferris joined Tom Power to talk about the power of folklore and the promises he made to the musicians he recorded all those decades ago. 

"If you can carry on your shoulders the voiceless people with whom you've worked and given them a voice and etched their names as Faulkner would say 'on the face of oblivion' for the future then you've lived a good life and you've done as much as possible to make the world a better place," he says.

Voices of Mississippi: Artists and Musicians Documented by William Ferris is out now. 

James 'Son Ford' Thomas performs for William Ferris' class at Yale University, 1974. (Submitted by William Ferris)

Below are two of the songs mentioned in this interview. 

Produced by Ben Jamieson

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