In the Spotlight: William Ferris

A native of Vicksburg, William R. Ferris, is a widely recognized leader in Southern studies, African American music, and folklore and is the Joel R. Williamson Eminent Professor of History at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the senior associate director of UNC’s Center for the Study of the American South. He is also adjunct professor in the curriculum on folklore. Ferris is a national advisor for the Catfish Row Museum.

The former chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, Ferris has conducted thousands of interviews with musicians ranging from the famous (B.B. King) to the unrecognized (Parchman Penitentiary inmates working in the fields).

He has written or edited more than 10 books and created 15 documentary films. He co-edited the massive Encyclopedia of Southern Culture(UNC Press, 1989), which was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. His other books include: Mule Trader: Ray Lum’s Tales of Horses, Mules and Men(1992), Local Color (1982, 1992), Images of the South: Visits with Eudora Welty and Walker Evans (1978), Mississippi Black Folklore: A Research Bibliography and Discography (1971) and Blues from the Delta (1970, 1978, 1988). His book Give My Poor Heart Ease: Voices of the Mississippi Blues(2009) was published by the University of North Carolina Press and has now been translated into French.

Bill Ferris’ films include Mississippi Blues (1983), which was featured at the Cannes Film Festival. He has produced numerous sound recordings and hosted Highway 61, a weekly blues program on Mississippi Public Radio for nearly a decade. He also has published his own poetry and short stories.

Ferris was the founding director of the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi, where he taught for 18 years. He also taught at Yale University and Jackson State University. A graduate of Davidson College, he received a Ph.D. in folklore from the University of Pennsylvania (1969). He was recently named the recipient of the 2017 Lifetime Achievement Governor’s Arts Award by the Mississippi Arts Commission.

Read more about William “Bill” Ferris online at

“The American South is a geographical entity, a historical place, a place in the imagination and the homeland for an array of Americans who consider themselves Southern.” — Bill Ferris, Joel R. Williamson Eminent Professor of History, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Ferris’ book, The South in Color: A Visual Journey, partly documents life on his family farm, where he says the people and the land shaped him and inspired his work as a folklorist. The book, published by UNC Press, is available at bookstores nationwide. Buy the Book Online or Visit Lorelei Books to Purchase a Copy