Folklorist and Professor Bill Ferris, a Grammy nominee this year for his "Voices of Mississippi" 3 CD Box set, has committed his life to documenting and expanding the study of the American South. His recordings, photos and films of preachers, quilt makers, blues musicians and more are now online as part of the Southern Folklife Collection at the University of North Carolina.
Bill Ferris grew up on a farm in Warren County, Mississippi along the Black River. His family, the only white family on the farm, worked side by side with the African Americans in the fields. When he was five, a woman named Mary Gordon would take him every first Sunday to Rose Hill Church, the small African American church on the farm. When Bill was a teenager he got a reel-to-reel tape recorder and started recording the hymns and services.
“ I realized that the beautiful hymns were sung from memory—there were no hymnals in the church—and that when those families were no longer there, the hymns would simply disappear.”
These recordings led Bill to a lifetime of documenting the world around him—preachers, workers, storytellers, men in prison, quilt makers, the blues musicians living near his home (including the soon-to-be well known Mississippi Fred McDowell).
Bill became a prolific author, folklorist, filmmaker, professor, and served as chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities. He is a professor of history at UNC–Chapel Hill and an adjunct professor in the Curriculum in
Folklore. He 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. He is associate director of the Center for the Study of the American South.
Bill’s has written and edited 10 books and created 15 documentary films, most dealing with African-American music and other folklore representing the Mississippi Delta. His thousands of photographs, films, audio interviews, and recordings of musicians are now online in the , part of the Southern Folklife Collection at the University of North Carolina.
This story was produced by Barrett Golding with The Kitchen Sisters for The Keepers series.
106 - 21 Collections—Every Object has a Story
Paper airplanes, photographs of men in rows, birds nests, gay bar matchbooks, dolls hats —an untraditional take on what warrants our attention. As part of The Kitchen Sisters’ series THE KEEPERS, we wander through a curated collection of collections at the Los Angeles Central Library examining the role collections play in telling our stories.
As research for this project, Curator Todd Lerew visited over 600 museums, libraries, archives, and public and private collections, identifying those he felt told the most compelling and memorable stories.
We also hear from callers to THE KEEPERS HOT LINE —The Unofficial Archivist of Mt. Everest—Elizabeth Hawley; The Radio Haiti Archive; 19th & 20th century women scientists at Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics Glass Plate Collection; Christian Schwartz, 21st century naturalist and collector; Bobby Fulcher recorder and keeper of traditional rural Tennessee folk music and more.
Bonus Episode - The Free-Range Archivist: Jason Scott
We've got something extra for you today as part of the Radiotopia fundraiser that is happening now. You can join the Radiotopia community and support The Kitchen Sisters Present... and all of your favorite shows in this beautiful network at .
And while you're doing that, here's a little gift from us. A special Radiotopia "Hear the World Differently" bonus feature from our series, The Keepers: The Free-Range Archivist: Jason Scott.
105 - The Keepers: The Unrelenting Oral Histories of Eddie McCoy
After a devastating car accident that made his work as a janitor impossible, civil rights activist Eddie McCoy, picked up a scavenged tape recorder and began taping anyone and everyone in his town—from the oldest person on down—piecing together the little known history of the African American community in Oxford, North Carolina. Hidden stories of slavery times, sharecropping, the civil rights era and more.
Eddie McCoy’s recordings and interviewing style are like no others. With energy and passion, Eddie documented the lives of teachers, railroad workers, doctors, sharecroppers and others in his community as far back as the end of the 19th century. A self-taught historian and avid researcher, he jokes, cajoles, and sympathizes with his interviewees drawing out candid stories that provide a window into life in small, southern tobacco town of some 10,000 people.
McCoy’s more than 140 interviews have become part of the Southern Oral History Project at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
His story is part of The Kitchen Sisters series “The Keepers” — stories of activist archivists, rogue librarians, curators, collectors and historians. Keepers of the culture and the cultures and collections they keep. Guardians of history, large and small, protectors of the free flow of information and ideas.
104 - The Keepers: Emily Dickinson's Hidden Kitchen
Deep in the hidden archives of Harvard’s Houghton Library are the butter stained recipes of Emily Dickinson. Who knew? Emily Dickinson was better known by most as a baker than a poet in her lifetime. In this story a beautiful line up of “Keepers”— dedicated archivists, librarians, historians, Thornton Wilder, Patti Smith, and more—lead us through the complex labyrinth of Emily Dickinson’s hidden kitchen. A world of black cake, gingerbread, slant rhyme, secret loves, family scandals, and poems composed on the backs of coconut cake recipes and chocolate wrappers.