Jan 03, 2013 | 1344 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print


WE ARE TOLD in the Scriptures, “Of making many books there is no end; and much study is an affliction of the flesh. (Ecclesiastes 12:12, King James version)

Travelers these days note that most books seem to be read on an e-book device or e-reader, which is a mobile electronic gadget designed mainly to read e-books and periodicals. There are the Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble, Nook, Sony Reader and PocketBook, among others. said in July that e-book sales had outstripped hardcover sales. It’s now selling three times as many e-books as it did a year ago. Amazon is said to account for about two-thirds of U. S. e-book sales.

CALL ME old-fashioned, but I still need the heft of ink on paper, whether hard or softbound, to feel like I’m into serious reading — fiction or non-fiction.

One book that has given me particular pleasure recently is Give My Poor Heart Ease: Voices of the Mississippi Blues, written by William Ferris, who is the Joel R. Williamson Eminent Professor of History and and associate director of the Center for the Study of the American South at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Publisher is The University of North Carolina Press.

I have to admit that it’s a modern product in that the inside cover has a pocket holding both a CD of original music and a DVD of original film.

The book is also non-traditional in size, at about 8 by 10 inches, and the format features photographic illustrations of many of the singers.

MOST NOTABLE is B.B. King. Prof. Ferris writes that “B.B. King, my dear friend, understood the importance of building an academic home for the blues and blessed my work in so many ways over the years, From our first visits at Yale in the seventies, to the donation of his blues collection to help create the Blues Archive at the University of Mississippi in the eighties, to his visit to the National Endowment for the Humanities during my tenure as chairman in the nineties, B has been incredibly supportive of my work. His life and his music are an inspiration for all that I do.”

Prof. Ferris divides his book into four sections: Blues Roots, Blues Towns and Cities, Looking Back, and Sacred and Secular Worlds. His journies took him from Memphis south, roughy paralleling the Mississippi River, to the Louisiana border.

ONE OF THE most poignant parts records a visit to Mississippi’s Parchman Penitentiary, an 18,000-acre penal farm in the heart of the Delta. For many years it was farmed with mules driven by white and black convicts, who were segregated.

Prof. Ferris writes that prisoners were given nicknames that reflected either personality traits or physical characteristics. Johnny Lee Thomas was nicknamed “Have Mercy” when he protested the brutal beating of another prisoner.

SEVERAL musical forms were used to ease the pain of the downtrodden andprobably helped keep them sane. Among them were one-strand instruments, bottles to blow, banjoes, spirituals, hymns and prison work chants.

The author writes that when he, a white Mississippian, worked in his home state in the 1960s and ‘70s, the people he interviewed and recorded opened his eyes to much more than music. “ [They] revealed the fabric of life in their families and communities in powerful ways,”

The dust jacket lists accolades from several well-known men, including the actor Morgan Freeman, raised in Mississippi. He wrote that his life is shaped by the blues, adding, “This book captures those rich voices so well.”

My daughter Sally and her husband Paul Jones are both associated with UNC-Chapel Hill, where they have become friends with William Ferris. He gave and inscribed this book to me, and I certainly cherish it.

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