Thanks to a generous grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, we are now streaming over 1000 audio files from the William R. Ferris Collection (20367). Preserved as part of the Southern Folklife Collection‘s digitization project, “From the Piedmont to the Swamplands: Preserving Southern Traditional Music.” I am even more excited to share with you that this is only the beginning. Over 1000 hours of music and recordings from the Goldband Recording Corporation Collection (20245) and the Mike Seeger Collection (20009) are soon to follow. This work was accomplished by an extraordinary team of archivists, engineers, programmers, and of course Dr. William R. Ferris. The Southern Folklife Collection has been working toward this goal for quite some time now and it is an honor to share this news with you.
We’ll have much more to share in the coming days, but for now immerse yourself in the recordings–interviews, songs, tales, and other sounds, Southern folklore, art, songs, Fannie Bell Chapman, Leon Clark, Lewis Dotson, Walker Evans, Theora Hamblett, Rose Hill Baptist Church, B.B. King, Ray Lum, Ethel Mohamed, James “Son” Thomas, Alice Walker, Pecolia Warner, Eudora Welty and much much more. Click through to the William R. Ferris Collection (20367) finding aid, and click on and active link for any tape you would like to hear.
Here’s a great place to start, Fannie Bell Chapman leading children’s games, recorded in Mississippi in 1972, from FT9922
By 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.”
There 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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
We extend our heartfelt condolences to King’s family, friends and fans. The King is dead. Long live the King.
Rest easy, B.
Singer, folklorist, activist and organizer Guy Carawan is a hero. He died last week at the age of 87. At the Southern Folklife Collection, we are lucky to be in the presence of Guy and Candie through the legacy of his work archived in the Guy and Candie Carawan Collection (20008). Like many heroes, Guy and Candie Carawan worked tirelessly and constantly. Prior to their meeting at the Highlander Folk School in 1960 to present day, the Carawans dedicated their lives to fighting for social justice through political engagement, education, and organizing. They believed in the power of song and the unbreakable spirit forged when multiple voices rise up in harmony and solidarity. Numerous media outlets have detailed Guy Carawan’s legacy in obituaries this week. More people have learned of Carawan’s role in popularizing an anthem of the Civil Rights Movement, “We Shall Overcome,” teaching it to organizers at the first meeting of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in Raleigh in 1960, this week than ever before. Our hope is that the materials presented here can expand from that moment and expose more of the world to the life and work of our friend and hero, Guy Carawan.
Every year, scholars from around the world expose me to new facets of the Carawans’ work through their research. Choosing what to share to honor Guy’s life from a collection of almost 20,000 items is an impossible task. Hundreds of open reel and audio cassette tapes made by the Carawans document the cultures of various groups of people in the South including significant speeches, sermons, and musical performances recorded during major civil rights demonstrations and conferences in Nashville, Birmingham, Atlanta. These recordings include master tapes of several documentary albums released on Folkways Records and feature such influential figures as Ralph Abernathy, Fred Shuttlesworth, James Bevel, Len Chandler, the Georgia Sea Island Singers, and Nashville Mayor R. Benjamin West.
Numerous field recordings of worship meetings, songs, stories, and recollections from Johns Island, S.C., document elements of the African American heritage of the rural South Carolina Low Country. Included are complete recordings of all-night Christmas and New Year’s watch meetings held in Moving Star Hall, a community praise house, as well as interviews with civic leader and activist Esau Jenkins about socio-economic improvements and efforts to overcome racial discrimination and poverty on Johns Island in the 1950s and 1960s. Listen to Esau Jenkins talk about his life on St. John’s Island followed by a prayer from the Moving Star Hall church, from open reel tape FT3617:Track 01Track 05
Born 7 July 1927 in Santa Monica, Calif. Guy’s father was from Mesic, North Carolina in the Eastern part of the state. While pursuing a degree in mathematics at Occidental College, Carawan studied folklore with Austin Fife and began to perform as a folksinger. He subsequently completed a master’s degree in sociology at the University of California at Los Angeles, where he continued his study of folklore with Wayland Hand. During the early 1950s, Carawan grew interested in incorporating folk music and topical songs into progressive socio-political activism and became involved in the People’s Song movement, meeting such activist-musicians as Pete Seeger and Lee Hays. In the late 1950s, Carawan released albums on Folkways Records, including Songs By Guy Carawan, SFC call number FC5349, featuring the playing of John Cohen (who Carawan met at jam sessions in Washington Square Park).
Carawan released a number of albums with Folkways, his second featured liner notes by Alan Lomax. In 1959, after the death of his teacher and collaborator Zilphia Horton, he became the director of music at the Highlander Folk School, an institution that provided instruction in social organization and was a meeting place for people interested in the civil rights movement and related causes in the South.
Candie Anderson, also from southern California, became interested in the black civil rights movement while in high school. She attended Pomona College near Los Angeles, but spent her junior year of college at Fisk University, a historically African American institution in Nashville, Tenn. While there, she participated in pro-integration demonstrations led by black students in Nashville. She became acquainted with Guy Carawan during a workshop at the Highlander School.
Candie and Guy Carawan remained affiliated with the Highlander Center and with the predominantly black community of Johns Island, S.C., where they addressed issues of racial discrimination and rural poverty, particularly through a citizenship education program formulated by the Highlander School.
They participated in major civil rights campaigns in Birmingham, Atlanta, and other southern cities. Participating in Freedom Rides and the Birmingham Mass Meeting.
Through workshops at the Highlander Center and elsewhere, they collected variants of African American spirituals and other songs for use in civil rights demonstrations and shared them with other participants, publishing a number of books like the following We Shall Overcome! (Oak Publications, 1963).
Throughout their careers, the Carawans have sought to document the music and culture of various groups of people with whom they have worked. They have been involved in the production of seventeen documentary recordings and seven films and have written five books, including three anthologies of songs associated with the civil rights movement. All the while, Guy continued to perform and record on his own as well as produce recordings by other artists. He will be missed but he will not be forgotten.
For all workers, past, present, and future on this 126th International Workers’ Day we present this promotional flyer for the 1978 Folk Song Festival in Helsinki Finland, found inserted in a LP sleeve (along with miniature sticker versions of the flyer) in the SFC’s Mike Seeger Collection, FC-25202.
The 1978 festival and flyer honored Chilean activist singer-songwriter Victor Jara who was murdered, along with thousands of other victims, by the Chilean Army a day after the military coup September 11, 1973. Jara’s 1969 composition “Plegaria a un Labrador” (“Public Prayer to a worker”) remains a powerful call for solidarity in the struggle for human rights. Hear Jara perform “Plegeria a un Labrador” with his group Quilapayún here.
Open reel tape, FT9374, in the Broadside Collection (20289) includes recordings from a series of 1974 benefit concerts for Chile organized by Phil Ochs in New York City after the death of President Salvador Allende, Victor Jara, and countless others. Musicians included Larry Estrige, Bob Dylan, Dave Van Ronk, and Arlo Guthrie. The latter performed a song dedicated to the life of Victor Jara based on a poem written by Adrian Miller. Listen to that track below:20289_FT9374_Victory Jara of Chile_Arlo Guthrie_5_9_1974_SouthernFoklifeCollection_UNC_Chapel Hill
And finally on this May Day we would like to leave you with one of Woody Guthrie’s protest ballads, “Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos).” The heartbreaking song memorializes the nameless migrants killed in a plane crash in Los Gatos canyon in 1948. It is sung by Sis Cunningham, recorded on FS5695 in the Broadside Collection (20289).20289_FS5695_Deportee_Sis Cunningham_Southern Folklife Collection_UNC_Chapel Hill