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Personal Preservation: Keeper of Culture Bill Ferris’s Storied Career Reveals Depths of Deep South


Bill Ferris on porch

For six decades Ferris has been sticking his nose into obscure corners of American culture. His curiosity has been rewarded with a leadership position at the National Endowment for the Humanities and two 2019 Grammy awards for Voices of Mississippi: Artists and Musicians Documented by William Ferrisbest historical album and best liner notes.

Ferris, who was born and raised in Mississippi, recorded that collection mostly in his 20s and 30s. He gathered sounds of gospel singers in now-vanished churches, unknown Delta blues musicians, tale-spinners who spoke of mules and ministers and signifyin’ monkeys of African-American legends.

He incorporated short films about anyone from author Eudora Welty to farmer Tom Johnson, who taught his pigs to say grace before assailing their trough. The label Dust to Digital spent a decade combing his archives and transcribing every word of the audio recordings for the hardcover book.


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