Folklorist Guillaume Ferris; musician and bearer of traditions Shardé Thomas, of Rising Star Fife and Drum Band; and blues specialist and sociologist Scott Barretta are invited for a special edition of “Live LMR”, recorded live on Monday, September 13, 2021.
Guests spoke with the host Nancy maria balach, president and music teacher at the University of Mississippi, in a conversation produced by Living music resource and the Center for the Study of Southern Culture as part of the “Voices of Mississippi” concert event Tuesday evening September 14 at Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts.
The concert is an outgrowth of Ferris’ Grammy Award-winning box set, “Voices of Mississippi: Artists and Musicians Documented by William Ferris”. Although the collection was released in 2019, it had been in the works for decades.
“I’ve always been in love with technology and the human voice,” said Ferris, a former Ole Miss professor of anthropology and founding director of the Center for the Study of Southern Culture. “In the 1950s, I used a reel tape recorder and a Kodak Brownie Hawkeye with a flash to interview families on the farm where I lived near Vicksburg.
“In 1967 I bought a Pentax 35mm camera and started developing and printing my own photographs in a small darkroom that my brother, Gray Ferris, and I equipped on the farm. I also bought a Sony Super-8 camera to capture the power of church services, baptisms, and blues clubs in ways that photography couldn’t.
The sound recordings, photographs and documentary film complement each other and help Ferris present a richly textured portrait of the people featured in “Voices of Mississippi”..”
The voices in the collection are interconnected and have “choral power” because “they all connect to both a geographic state and a state of mind called Mississippi,” Ferris said.
“Black and white, old and young, men and women; together, their voices capture what Balzac called his “human comedy”. Faulkner created a similar world in his Yoknapatawpha County. Recording those voices was my way of building a bridge through the murky waters.
“The recordings are both a political and an artistic statement because they recognize the humanity of each person. While over time they will all disappear from the landscape, their voices will endure. I refused to recognize the barriers of race, gender, and age I was born into, and these recordings are my way of opposing them. While I saw my work in the 1960s as intimately linked to the civil rights movement, today it has clear ties to Black Lives Matter. “
Ferris has long understood that music is an extremely effective means of communicating culture and experience.
“Music is our oldest and most primitive language,” he said. “Human life as we know it began in Africa, and this continent has also given us the ‘talking drum’, which communicates the word through drumbeats. BB King’s guitar voice, Lucille, is just as important as Mr. King’s, and he allows each voice to perform solo in his songs.
“Music communicates a story in a deeply emotional way, and each of us associates periods of our life with music. As a teenager in the late 1950s, blues and rock’n’roll were the music of my generation, and these songs still resonate with me in a special way.
“Music has also inspired our writers, as seen in ‘Mozart and Leadbelly: Stories and Essays’ by Ernest Gaines, ‘Airships’ by Barry Hannah, ‘The Color Purple’ by Alice Walker and ‘Powerhouse’ by Eudora Welty. All of the writers I have recorded shared a deep love for music.
The set includes a book with full transcriptions of the music and stories, as well as photographs of the singers and speakers, Ferris said. He credited the work of a team of writers – including Barretta, professor of sociology at UM and host of “Highway 61” on Mississippi Public Broadcasting; David evans, and Tom rankin – for both of the set Grammy Awards in 2019.
“The work Bill did as a young documentary maker captured music and stories that few others thought they would record,” Balach said. “He honored his subjects with his recordings because he felt called to them, and it is amazing that they continue to resonate so strongly in today’s political and cultural climate.
“It’s a testament to the power of those voices and our continued need to listen to them. “
Once the “LMR Live” livestream is finished, the show will be available later in the LMR Live Archive section of https://www.livingmusicresource.com.
By Lynn Adams Wilkins