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:
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.
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 albumCool Down: twelve-gates-to-the-city