Well Said: The songs of the American South

Bill Ferris, the Joel R. Williamson eminent professor emeritus of history, never could have imagined being nominated for two Grammy Awards when he first picked up a camera at 12 years old.

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Ever since he was a young boy on a farm in Vicksburg, Mississippi, Bill Ferris was drawn to music. When he was 12 years old, he started to document the music he loved after he received a camera for Christmas.

Documenting songs, storytellers and other artists all around him soon quickly become a new hobby.

Bill Ferris interviews author Ernest Gaines in 1980.

And that hobby eventually became a profession that ultimately brought Ferris to Chapel Hill, where he is the Joel R. Williamson eminent professor emeritus of history at Carolina.

That profession also led to “Voices of Mississippi,” a compilation of songs, stories and films that Ferris has recorded over the years. The box set was nominated for two Grammy Awards this year for best historical album and best album notes. The Grammy Awards ceremony takes place Feb. 10.

On this week’s episode, Ferris discusses his life’s work as a folklorist and how these Grammy nominations make good on promises he gave to his subjects many years ago.

Read a transcript of this episode.

Join us every Wednesday for Well Said to hear from students, faculty, staff and alumni. Each week, you’ll learn what’s going on in classrooms, labs and around campus, and how it pertains to the local, national and international headlines.