Most of Ferris’ photographs, from the 1960s and 70s, depict blues roots musicians. Mary Gordon sang church hymns around her home and in her church in Rose Hill. Louis Dotson of Lorman played a one-strand guitar, sometimes called a diddley-bow. The musicians in the photographs represent a variety of musical traditions in towns along the Mississippi River, in the Mississippi Delta, and in Jackson and Memphis. "These African American musicians speak about and perform musical traditions that are the authentic roots of black music," writes Ferris in Give My Poor Heart Ease: Voices of the Mississippi Blues, published in 2009 by the University of North Carolina Press. The book includes the photographs on view as well as transcribed interviews with the individual musicians, a CD of their music, and a DVD of performances.
In 2009, Ferris donated forty-five photographs from the book to the Mississippi Museum of Art, Jackson. "These photographs recognize some of the lesser known contributors to blues music as we know it today," says Betsy Bradley, MMA director. "It's an honor for us to be able to tour this show within our statewide affiliate network of museums."
The Southern Cultural Heritage Foundation is the first venue on the tour. “We are thrilled to be the first venue to exhibit the photos from this educational and enlightening tour”, said Annette Kirklin, executive director of the Southern Cultural Heritage Foundation. “I think it is so appropriate to host the exhibit in the Cultural Center where Bill Ferris was one of the organizers that helped develop the Foundation in 1994.”
Quotes from interviews that Ferris conducted with each musician accompany many of the photographs in the exhibition. "The blues can give you a feeling that nothing else can give you," said another Vicksburg native, blues legend Willie Dixon, shown in a photograph singing into a microphone in a New Haven, Conn., music club in 1976.
A photograph of B.B. King shows the blues great reclining on a sofa at Lucifer's Club in Boston, Mass., perhaps before a performance. Ferris became friends with B.B. King when he visited one of the classes that Ferris was teaching at Yale University in the 1970s. More than twenty years later, when Ferris was chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, the NEH presented King with a humanities award.
The Southern Cultural Heritage Foundation and its programs are supported by funding from the Mississippi Arts Commission, a state agency, and in part, from the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency, and the generous support of the Southern Cultural Heritage Foundation individual and corporate members, the City of Vicksburg, and various appropriations. The SCHF is located at 1302 Adams Street, Vicksburg, Miss. For directions, hours of operation and more information call 601.631.2997 or visit www.southernculture.org.
For more information about the Mississippi Museum of Art’s exhibitions and programs, please call 601-960-1515 or 1-866-VIEW ART (843-9278), or visit www.msmuseumart.org.
Give My Poor Heart Ease: Voices of the Mississippi Blues is organized by the Mississippi Museum of Art and supported with funds provided by the Museum's statewide Traveling Exhibition Endowment, a fund made possible through significant private contributions matched by the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency.
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The Southern Cultural Heritage Foundation (SCHF), a non-profit organization, maintains the Southern Cultural Heritage Center in Vicksburg, MS. The Center is a Mississippi Landmark property and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is one of the most architecturally and historically significant city blocks in downtown. The Foundation is committed to preserving the history and architecture of the Cultural Center, while offering cultural, educational and artistic programs for the community.