Vicksburg native wins 2017 MS Governor's Arts Award

Bill Seratt

February 28, 2017

Congratulations!   Bill Ferris Receives 2017 Governor’s Arts Award

Just a few days ago, Vicksburg native Dr. William R. (Bill) Ferris was presented the 2017 Mississippi Governor’s Arts Award for Lifetime Achievement by Governor Phil Bryant and Mississippi First Lady Deborah Bryant.  The ceremony was held in the meticulously renovated House of Representative's Chamber in the Old Capitol Museum in Jackson.  All of us here in Bill’s hometown of Vicksburg congratulate him for receiving this prestigious recognition.  We thank Bill for his lifetime of researching, documenting and preserving all things Southern. 

Ferris received his MA in English from Northwestern University in 1965 and an MA in Folklore from the University of Pennsylvania in 1967.  In 1969 he received a PhD in Folklore from the University of Pennsylvania.  In the early 1970s he and Judy Peiser produced a number of documentary films in the Mississippi Delta which lead to the founding of the Center for Southern Folklore in Memphis.

After serving as an assistant professor of English at Jackson State University, Ferris became an associate professor in American and African-American Studies Programs at Yale University.  While at Yale, Ferris co-founded the Center for Southern Folklore in Mississippi, and was its director from 1972-1984.  From 1979 to 1997, he was the founding director of the Center for the Study of Southern Culture and professor of anthropology at the University of Mississippi in Oxford. Ferris along with Dr. Charles Reagan Wilson co-edited The Encyclopedia of Southern Culture, which was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. 

In 1997, President Bill Clinton nominated Ferris to serve as the Chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities, a post he held until 2001.  In 2002, he began a stay at the University of North Carolina where he teaches at the Center for the Study of the American South as the Joel R. Williamson Eminent Professor of History.

Ferris has authored ten books and created 15 documentary films most of which deal with African-American music and other folklore representing the Mississippi Delta.  The Blues Hall of Fame has recognized his book, Blues from the Delta, as one of the classics of Blues Literature. 

Those joining Dr. Ferris as recipients of the Governor’s Arts Award this year include The Mississippi Opera for Artistic Excellence; Sammy Britt for Excellence in the Visual Arts; Vasti Jackson for Arts Ambassador; Lucy Richardson Janoush for Arts Patron; and Jaimoe Johnie Johnson for Excellence in Music.

We congratulate all of the winners and send a special thank you to Bill Ferris for keeping our stories alive.