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

Bobby Rush Raw and in Person

Bobby Rush visited the Southern Folklife Collection yesterday and gave a fantastic solo performance to a few lucky listeners (I see you, “Clarksdale”) who braved the storm to attend the first concert in the 2012 Southern Journey Fall Concert Series.

It was a rare opportunity to see and hear Bobby Rush performing acoustic and sharing stories of his long and remarkable career as a bluesman, as a runner for Elmore James, getting guitar lessons from Howlin’ Wolf, riffing on Tony Jo White, and even a story of how he got his name, Bobby Rush.

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We also picked up a copy of one of his recent albums (Bobby Rush has released over 250 albums in over 50 years of recording music).  Entitled Raw, Bobby Rush strips down the songs to their fundamentals, using only his guitar, harmonica, voice, and feet percussion. This is a different side of Bobby Rush, but we like it just as much as the master showman of southern R&B that we are used to (although we did kind of miss the costume changes and backup dancers).

Hear for yourself; listen to some more clips of Bobby Rush’s performance below and remember Tommy Edwards will be here playing North Carolina bluegrass in our second installment of the Southern Journey Concert Series on October 2. See you at Wilson Library at 11 AM, October 2!

 

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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.

Dr. Demento and John Fahey Interview Son House

FT-2809On May 7, 1965, UCLA students Barry Hansen (who, as you know, would later find fame as radio’s Dr. Demento) and John Fahey (already an accomplished guitarist), along with Mark Levine, sat down for an interview with legendary Delta blues singer Son House in Venice, California.  House, who had recorded some extremely influential sides for Paramount records in the 1930s before disappearing from the blues scene for almost a quarter of a century, had recently been “rediscovered” and at the time was widely regarded as the greatest Delta blues singer still actively performing (watch him sing “Death Letter” here to see why).

The interview has been preserved on field tape FT-2809 in the SFC’s John Edwards Memorial Foundation Collection. Many of the questions focus on House’s early career in Mississippi and memories of his blues contemporaries. In the clip below House explains the origins of Charley Patton‘s song “Charlie Bradley’s Ten Sixty-Six Blues”:

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Robert Pete Williams at the University of Illinois Campus Folksong Club

Robert Pete Williams

From the early 1960s until the early 1970s a student group known as the Campus Folksong  Club, under the leadership of faculty advisor Archie Green, brought folk musicians from all over the country to perform on the campus of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Over the years, the Folksong Club hosted performances by the Stanley Brothers, Flatt and Scruggs, Doc Watson, and in 1965, Louisiana bluesman Robert Pete Williams.

The story of Robert Pete Williams is well known; while serving a life sentence for murder at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola in the late 1950s, Williams’ songs and stories were recorded by folklorist and ethnomusicologist Harry Oster.  Under considerable pressure from Oster and others in the academic community, Williams’ sentence was commuted, and by 1964 he was released from the terms of his parole and allowed to tour outside Louisiana for the first time. We are fortunate that some of these early performances were captured on tape, including the Campus Folksong Club concert featured here, tape number FT-4189/FT-4190 in the SFC’s Archie Green Collection.

Listen to a clip of Robert Pete Williams performing “I’ve Grown So Ugly”, live at the University of Illinois, Feb.12, 1965:

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“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.

“Bowling Green” John Cephas, 1930-2009

John Cephas at Merlefest, 1999

John Cephas at Merlefest, 1999, from the Becky Johnson Collection

In March of this year, the music world lost one of its best and brightest when John Cephas, world-famous proponent of the famous Piedmont style of guitar picking, passed away.  Cephas, widely known for his partnership with harmonica player Phil Wiggins, was a regular on the blues festival circuit, bringing the mellow sounds of the Piedmont to enthusiastic crowds on every continent (except Antarctica – too bad for the penguins!) Winner of a slew of awards (including a National Heritage Fellowship Award in 1989), he tirelessly worked to bring traditional blues music to audiences old and new.

Take a moment and remember Mr. Cephas with us, and enjoy Piedmont style picking at its very best.

Listen to a clip of Cephas & Wiggins performing “Twelve Gates To The City”, from the 1995 album Cool Down:

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