Monday, February 08, 2010

Book 12, 2010: Give My Poor Heart Ease

I got the blues reading Give My Poor Heart Ease, Voices of the Mississippi Blues by William Ferris.

I got the blues thinking of all the voices within this book that are stilled now. Stilled long before Barack Obama became our nation's President. An event I think many of the people speaking from these pages longed for and dreamed of, but never truly dreamed would come to pass.

Give My Poor Heart Ease is not merely a chronicle of the blues -- that unique musical genre that grew out of the African American experience in the heart of the Mississippi Delta -- although it is every bit that. It is also a chronicle of a people -- poor, uneducated, exploited -- who found a voice through music; music that let them express their sorrow and their joy and that has slowly united many people, of all races, through the simple, yet fundamental, message conveyed by the blues and the appeal of a 12-bar chord progression.

"The blues is like a tonic," says B.B. King, one of the voices within this book still living (and still playing). "There's a blues for anything that bothers you . . . The blues are the three Ls, and that would be living, loving, and hopefully, laughing . . ."

Give My Poor Heart Ease is an extraordinary work. In extensive interviews conducted decades ago Ferris has captured the voices of everyone from poor sharecroppers to the late Willie Dixon, who wrote any number of blues classics, and King, who is the reigning ambassador of the blues at the advanced age of 84.

In addition to the interviews, the book is laced with photographs taken by Ferris in his travels through the Delta. The photographs add depth and understanding to the text. There is also a CD with songs from many of the people Ferris interviewed as well as inmates in Parchman Penitentiary and a DVD that features work chants at Parchman, a church service, Mississippi folktales and a house party.

It's a rich and illuminating collection of material on our African American history, Mississippi and the Blues. And when combined with his earlier work, Blues From the Delta, released in 1978, it establishes Ferris as one of the foremost chroniclers of the Blues.

Ferris will appear in March at the Virginia Festival of the Book in Charlottesville. He will appear at the Southern Cafe and Music Hall, 103 S. First, at 2 p.m. Thursday, March 18. I plan to be there.

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