William Ferris has put out countless books, films and articles over the past five decades, all of them widely acclaimed. But every item on his resume moved down a notch earlier this month, when he won a Grammy Award.
The honor came for his career-spanning 2018 box set, “Voices of Mississippi: Artists and Musicians Documented by William Ferris,” which won for best historical album. “Voices” also won a second Grammy, for David Evans’ liner notes in the accompanying 120-page hardback book. “I’ve never done anything that’s touched people in such a broad, expansive way,” Ferris said. “Everyone knows about it and I think I’ve heard from everyone I’ve ever met, a flood of emails and notes and phone calls from people I’ve not heard from since I was a child.”
Born and raised in Mississippi, Ferris began taking pictures and making recordings of vernacular artists at an early age — long before entering academia. Even if he hadn’t become one of the world’s leading folklorists at the University of Mississippi, the National Endowment for the Humanities and — since 2002 — at UNC-Chapel Hill, Ferris would have gone right on documenting the music, art and life around him.