"Area History Rich in Musical Traditions" by Sid Graves 1978

Sid Graves - November 14, 1978 - Clarksdale Press Register  

A rich aspect of Clarksdale and Coahoma County's history is that of its music. Natives of the city and county, as well as those who have visited and performed here and the surrounding Delta, have contributed to the blues musical tradition which has reached beyond regional borders to influence the other uniquely American music forms of jazz and country, in addition to rock and roll, pop, and western music.

From blues popularizer W. C. Handy who relates in his autobiography that he first heard the blues fourteen miles from Clarksdale) to John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf and others, the area has been prominent and includes talents as diverse as B. B. King, Mississippi John Hurt, Sam Chatmon, Ike Turner and white bluesman Mose Allison of Tippo.

The heritage of the blues ( from "blue devils" ) is competently treated by folklorist William Ferris in his recently published Blues from the Delta.
 
A native of Vicksburg, Ferris is the founder and co-director of the Center of Southern Folklore in Memphis, and associate professor of Afro-American Studies at Yale. Currently on a European tour for the U. S. Department of State, he will assume duties as director of the Center for Southern Studies at the University of Mississippi next year. His films, recordings and photographs on Southern Folkways, artists, musicians and craftsmen have helped preserve for posterity ways of doing things and being that are rapidly disappearing. ( His exhibit on folk architecture is scheduled for a 1981 showing at Carnegie Public Library.

Ferris has also recorded three albums of Delta bluesmen, and his record of Mississippi mule trader Ray Lum is a fine example of the use of oral history to record and enrich our understanding of the American heritage. The young folklorist, who received his doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania, has published numerous articles on the blues, and this book is a more detailed treatment of the subject which was published in his book of the same title in England in 1970. 
 
Blues from the Delta is based on inter-views with the individuals who make and perform the music. In 1967, Ferris began his research, the methods of which are related in this illustrated volume and which were described as "past strange" by a fellow white Mississippian.

Living with the families of the subjects of his study resulted in friendships which are illustrated with letters and photographs. More importantly, the completed book is an accomplished document of the blues history and our social history. 
 
Bluesmen, such as Pine Top Johnson and Jasper Love of Clarksdale, were interviewed, and the transcript of a "house party" held in Clarksdale is included in the work. While B. B. King is achnowledged for his important assistance in the book's preparation, it is the lesser-known Delta bluesmen who are treated more fully and to whom the work is dedicated. These included Shelby "Poppa Jazz" Brown, Wallace "Pine Top" Johnson, Lee Kizart, Jasper Love, Maudie Shirley and James "Son" Thomas.

These performers and others recall their experiences and interpret the blues in their own language as Ferris includes transcripts of interviews as well as sections on the roots and the composition of the blues.

Interesting chapters on bluesmen and preachers, verses, proverbs, audiences and other subjects reveal a keen appreciation of the music. A helpful bibliography, discography and filmography are also included. Clarksdale is frequently mentioned in the book, and there are photographs of this city, Lula, and the performers from the vicinity.

While some may object to the rough language contained in the publication, the many devotees of the blues and admirers of its performers and the history of their important music will rejoice and enjoy.
 
Blues from the Delta is available at the public library and the local bookstore. Persons wishing to check copies out may telephone 624-4461 to place their name the request list.

The sixty-minute videotape Good Mornin Blues, produced by the Mississippi Authority for Educational Television and narrated by B. B. King, is available for individual or group viewing at the public library. A series of films made by William Ferris will be shown at the branch library at dates to be announced in the future.

 

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