In tribute to B. B. King

20367_BKP_2527_King at YaleBy now I am sure that most of our readers have learned that the great Riley B. King, better known as B. B. King, died at his home in Las Vegas May 14, 2015 at the age of 89. At the Southern Follklife Collection, King’s presence is never far. Folklorist and great friend of the SFC, Bill Ferris, worked alongside B. B. King for many years and documented the time they spent together extensively. We couldn’t help but share the following letter where King writes to his friend Bill about his 1974 visit to Yale University, storing the memories of his visit “in the archives of my heart.”

BBKing025P20367_2528_Ferris_King_EncyclopediaThere is far too much content in the William R. Ferris Collection (20367) to share in a blog post, but we welcome all of you to visit The Wilson Library to see more and perhaps more importantly, hear more. Besides the more than 200 sound recordings featuring King in the SFC, there are also numerous field recordings, both interview and performance, as well as film and video documenting King’s life and career. Listen to B. B. King speaking to a class at Yale in 1974:

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All of the images in this post except for the commercial sound recordings come from the Ferris collection. Already the internet is full of wonderful images, songs, and remembrances of King. Taken as a whole, they serve as a powerful reminder of King’s life and career, demonstrating the massive impact he has had on American music and culture while simultaneously pointing at the legacy that will reverberate far into the future.

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We could not avoid posting some images of King in performance, cradling Lucille, King’s face twisted with emotion, images so powerful I can hear the music in my head just by looking.

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But as with so many persons whose lives and works are documented and preserved in cultural institutions like the SFC, what stands out are the candid moments: quiet times between sets, casual conversations with fans (be they prison guards or inmates at Parchman Penitentiary), relaxing at home, or meetings with students.

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Thanks to Bill and many others who have shared their stories of King over the years, we’ve learned it’s these in-between moments that reflect the humble spirit, open heart and inimitable kindness that King demonstrated every day of his life. It was his love of humanity and love of life that fueled his music and we are all better because he so willingly shared his gifts around the world.

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We extend our heartfelt condolences to King’s family, friends and fans. The King is dead. Long live the King.

Rest easy, B.

20367_BKP_6_76_5_BB King in repose

“Saving Our Heritage for the Next Generation”: 7th World Day for Audiovisual Heritage

Southern Folklife Collection audio preservation engineer, John Loy, in the John M. Rivers, Jr. Studio. Photo by Dan SearsUNESCO, in cooperation with the Co-ordinating Council of Audiovisual Archives Associations (CCAAA) and other partners, has adopted 27 October as the World Day for Audiovisual Heritage to better focus global attention on the significance of AV documents and to draw attention to the need to safeguard them. The theme for this year’s celebration is “Saving Our Heritage for the Next Generation.”ICA_WorldDay for Audiovisual Heritage

RIVERSGRID3The Southern Folklife Collection works toward this goal daily in our efforts to preserve the hundreds of thousands of sound recordings, film and video housed in Wilson Library. Through grant-funded digitization projects and through research driven requests, the Southern Folklife Collection has digitized and made available tens of thousands of recordings documenting the vast riches of traditional expressive culture from the American South and around the world. The John M. Rivers, Jr. Studio (pictured above, right, and below) and the Ben Jones Audio and Video Studios constantly echo with the sounds, songs, and stories collected from centuries past through the 21st.
From the UNESCO statement:

Audiovisual documents, such as films, radio and television programmes, are our common heritage and contain the primary records of the 20th and 21st centuries. They help to maintain the cultural identity of a people; but countless documentary treasures have disappeared since the invention of image and sound technologies that permit the peoples of the world to better share their experiences, creativity and knowledge.

All of the world’s audiovisual heritage is endangered. Nowhere can it be said to be preserved, but through initiatives such as theWorld Day for Audiovisual Heritage and the Memory of the World Programme, the precious work of preservation professionals is given impetus to manage a range of technical, political, social, financial and other factors that threaten the safeguarding of our heritage.

It was in this context, that the General Conference in 2005 approved the commemoration of a World Day for Audiovisual Heritage as a mechanism to raise general awareness of the need for urgent measures to be taken and to acknowledge the importance of audiovisual documents as an integral part of national identity. (UNESCO)

In honor of the 7th World Day for Audiovisual Heritage, we wanted to highlight some of the recordings recently digitized as part of one of our current projects, From the Piedmont to the Swamplands: Preserving Southern Traditional Music, funded in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities. The multi-year effort will preserve and make accessible online up to 3,019 hours of sound recordings and 4,500 related photographs dating from the 1920s to 1980s, drawn from the Southern Folklife Collection holdings in the William R. Ferris Collection (20367), Mike Seeger Collection (20009), John Edwards Memorial Foundation Records (20001), and the Goldband Recording Corporation Collection (20245).

20009_Mike Seeger Collection_pf00017_Southern Folklife Collection, UNC Chapel HillRegular readers of Field Trip South will not be surprised to see the Mike Seeger Collection featured here. Many of Seeger’s photographs are currently digitized and available for viewing online: iconic images of America’s musical treasures like Ralph and Carter Stanley, the Carter Sisters, Lesley Riddle, Dock Boggs, and of course, the beloved NC Piedmont picker and singer, Elizabeth Cotten.

The Southern Folklife Collection has preserved hundreds of hours of Seeger’s field recordings and his own master tapes. Every tape is a treat, but occasionally we come upon an especially outstanding track like this version of “Well May the World Go” featuring Mike performing with his brother, the legendary folksinger Pete, on 29 January 1973. They tore through three versions of the tune that day. Have a listen to the third take of that piece here, from FT14925 in the Mike Seeger Collection:

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Another recent standout track comes from The New Tranquility String Band (FT14198.) This outtake of  “Boatman” was recorded during sessions for the Berkley Farms: Oldtime and Country Style Music of Berkley LP originally released for Smithsonian Folkways in 1972. This version version has the jaw harp higher in the mix, giving it a striking old-time feel that we like. 

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FT9918_Fanny_Bell_Chapman_Children's concert. Reel 28 of 42. FCT 28-72-7_William R. Ferris Collection_UNC_Chapel HillThe Piedmont to the Swamplands grant also allowed us to digitize the majority of audio recordings collected by folklorist and UNC professor William R. Ferris. With thousands of audio recordings, photographs, and feet of film, the William R. Ferris Collection is an invaluable resource documenting the people and culture of the American South, an archival treasure trove reflecting the ineffable “sense of place” that makes the South such a compelling–and haunting–place. Many of Ferris’s photographs are available online. This performance by a young child, Don Singleton recorded on FT 9918, made our jaws drop.

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This next tape was recorded during the process of filming a documentary film about the remarkable Fannie Bell Chapman. The complete film can be viewed in full on Folkstreams.net., Fannie Bell Chapman: Gospel Singer. The following version of “Now Sister Go Where I Send Thee” is from FT9974, the first of six tapes recording Chapman’s music recorded in August 1975. 

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FT11151_Wash Herron on harmonica and "Big Jack" Johnson on guitar__William R. Ferris Collection_UNC_Chapel HillFerris documented the secular as well as the sacred and his recordings of Mississippi blues artists are equally vital documents. The following track is from one of the first recordings of the bluesman “Big Jack” Johnson.  From FT11151, this is Johnson performing on guitar with harmonica player Wash Herron. 

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These clips offer but a glimpse into the Southern Folklife Collection’s preservation efforts. The public is encouraged to explore our finding aids for detailed inventories and description of archival collections and the UNC Libraries online catalog for materials of interest and request that they be preserved and made available for research. Feel free to contact the SFC with any comments or questions at wilsonlibrary@unc.edu. We also hope you will enjoy some music this Sunday, October 27, World Day for Audiovisual Heritage, and think about institutions like the Southern Folklife Collection, the Library of Congress, and countless other archives and institutions that are working to preserve our aural and visual history. Southern Folklife Collection John M. Rivers, Jr. Studio. Photo by Dan Sears

Previously Unreleased Mississippi Fred McDowell Recordings Now Available

Chapel Hill’s Devil Down Recordings has announced the release of “Come and Found You Gone”, The Bill Ferris Recordings, a new CD featuring over an hour of previously unreleased Mississippi Fred McDowell recordings made by Bill Ferris in 1967. From the Devil Down website:

These recordings are different from any other of Fred McDowell due to their very nature: rather than conducted with the production of a record in mind, the recordings were made casually over the course of a night. McDowell is here heard at his best, relaxed and energetic, performing many of his most famous songs as well as songs never before heard. With his foot tapping on the hardwood floor and laughter in the background, “Come and Found You Gone” brings the listener into that hot night in August, 1967, immersing them in the world of the blues house party, and guiding them through the night as it unfolded… The 18 track album includes a 16 page booklet featuring liner notes from blues researcher and Rolling Stone Magazine top 10 Professor Bill Ferris, Luther Dickinson of the North Mississippi Allstars, and leading French blues scholar Vincent Joos. This booklet also contains a dozen award-winning photographs taken by Bill Ferris in 1970 at Otha Turner’s 4th of July picnic in Potts Camp, Mississippi.

The SFC was proud to provide Devil Down with access to the original field recordings housed in the William R. Ferris Collection. You can stream tracks or purchase the CD at the Devil Down website.

Louis Dotson Plays The One-String

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Pictured is farmer and musician Louis Dotson of Lorman, Mississippi, photographed by Bill Ferris in 1973, constructing a “one-string guitar” on the wall of his front porch. The traditional instrument, sometimes referred to as a “diddley-bow”, is made by stretching a single guitar string between two nails and played as a slide guitar with a bottle neck or other object used to adjust the pitch. Dotson is quoted extensively in Ferris’ new book, Give My Poor Hear Ease:

“My daddy used to play music. He used to play all the time. That’s how I learned to play the guitar. After he died, the other boys, they took the guitar. I couldn’t get another one. So I decided to put me up a wire. I just call it ‘part of a guitar.’ It’s a one-string guitar, but it sounds like it’s got six strings on it. …Nobody else around here can play it but me. People, they come and listen to me. They say they don’t see how I can do it.”

Listen to a clip of Louis Dotson play “Bottle Up and Go” on the front porch of his farm (complete with crowing rooster), from SFC field tape #FT-10105:

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Clip and photo from the William R. Ferris Collection.

“Give My Poor Heart Ease” Coming This Fall

give my poor heart easeUNC Press has announced a November 2009 publication date for Give My Poor Heart Ease: Voices Of The Mississippi Blues, the new book/CD/DVD from UNC’s own Bill Ferris. From the Press:

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, folklorist William Ferris toured his home state of Mississippi, documenting the voices of African Americans as they spoke about and performed the diverse musical traditions that form the authentic roots of the blues. Illustrated with Ferris’s photographs of the musicians and their communities and including a CD of original music and a DVD of original film, this book features more than 20 interviews relating frank, dramatic, and engaging narratives about black life and blues music in the heart of the American South.

The CD/DVD is set to include narratives and performances from Fannie Bell Chapman, Scott Dunbar, James “Son” Thomas, B.B. King and more, personally selected by Bill Ferris from his extensive field recordings housed in the SFC’s William R. Ferris Collection.

UNC Press has put together a great website where you can watch video clips, get bonus material, and preorder your copy.