UNC Blues Scholar to be Honored at International Film Festival

UNC Professor William Ferris, a noted scholar on black music and Southern culture, will receive a lifetime achievement award at an international film festival in Prague this fall.

Ferris, the Joel R. Williamson Eminent professor of history in the College of Arts and Sciences and senior associate director of UNC’s Center for the Study of the American South, will be honored at the Music on Film-Film on Music Festival Oct. 18-22 at the Palace Lucerna, one of the oldest cinemas in Europe.

The festival – which includes films, live concerts, photo exhibits, lectures and workshops – will show several of Ferris’ documentary films on B.B. King, the Mississippi Delta blues, black churches and religion, gospel music and African fife and drum music in the United States. There also will be an exhibition of his photography, and he will discuss and perform blues music.

Festival director John Caulkins called Ferris “a pioneering ethnographic filmmaker in the tradition of the legendary Alan Lomax,” referring to the late ethnographer who recorded thousands of blues and folk songs for the Library of Congress.

Ferris, a native of Vicksburg, Miss., has interviewed thousands of musicians ranging from the famous (B.B. King) to the unrecognized (Parchman Penitentiary inmates working in the fields).

He has written or edited 10 books and created 15 documentary films. He co-edited the massive Encyclopedia of Southern Culture (1989), which was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. His films include Mississippi Delta Blues, Black Delta Religion and Give My Poor Heart Ease.

Ferris chaired the National Endowment for the Humanities from 1997 to 2001. He was founding director of the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi, where he was on the faculty for 18 years.

His honors include the Charles Frankel Prize in the Humanities from former President Clinton, the American Library Association’s Dartmouth Medal, the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Award and the Richard Wright Literary Excellence Award from the Natchez, Miss., Literary and Cinema Celebration.

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