The blues, says author and scholar William Ferris, is a deep study.
Ferris brought some of that "deep study" to Charlottesville, Virginia, today in an hour-long presentation that was part of the annual Festival of the Book.
Ferris, a professor at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, spoke before a crowd of about 60 people at the Southern Cafe and Music Hall, a below-street-level venue just around the corner from Charlottesville's historic downtown. Ferris talked about his new book, Give My Poor Heart Ease, before tracing his journey through the South in a captivating talk accompanied by a powerful series of black and white photographs that he had taken.
James "Son Ford" Thomas first characterized the blues as a deep study. Ferris that Thomas, a black blues musician that he views as his guru, said, "Women is what gives me the blues." Ferris said the blues often deals with pain, especially lost love.
"The central theme of the music is solace," he said. "Not just to the musicians, but to all of us."
Ferris said his first book, Blues From the Delta, was a scholarly approach to the blues. It was a white man's approach to black music. In Give My Poor Heart Ease Ferris decided that he wanted the voices of the people he had met on his travels through the South to be heard.
People, he said, are living libraries.
The value of Ferris' work is two-fold. He has preserved the voices of the people he met in his research. Those voices can be heard, not only in his book, but literally in the DVD and CD that are included with it. Ferris noted that except for blues legend B.B. King all of the people featured in Give My Poor Heart Ease are now dead.
The second value of his work is that Ferris helps us to understand that the blues are a part of the fabric of the land and of the people from which it comes. He said the blues are a music of freedom.