Davidson College alumnus Bill Ferris won two Grammys at the Feb. 10 award ceremony. Ferris, 76, won in the Best Historical Album category for "Voices of Mississippi: Artists and Musicians Documented by William Ferris," and in the Best Album Notes category for David Evans' liner notes in the 120-page hardback book that accompanies the package.
Folklore archivist William Ferris '64 is among the nominees for next week's Grammy Awards for his album: Voices of Mississippi -- a four-disk set that includes Ferris' field recordings of blues singers, gospel singers and storytellers.
Ferris started making the collection of recordings in the 1960s as a teenager growing up on an isolated farm in the Mississippi Delta region.
"My family were the only white family on the farm, there were black families and we were a community," Ferris says in a recent "Kitchen Sisters" podcast. "The children played together, men in those families worked with my father in the fields."
The young Ferris got a reel-to-reel tape recorder and started to record the hymns that would drift through the still morning air from Rose Hill Church.
"I realized that the beautiful hymns were sung from memory -- there were no hymnals in the church -- and that when those families were no longer there, the hymns would simply disappear," he says.
Ferris pioneered the field of Southern Studies and served as chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities under President Bill Clinton. He will retire at the end of this academic year from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, where he teaches southern folklore, music and literature.