Give My Poor Heart Ease

Voices of the Mississippi Blues

By William Ferris

Includes a CD of original music

320 pp., 8 x 9.5, 45 illus., 1 map, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-2887-5
    Published: February 2016
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-0-8078-9852-9
    Published: November 2009
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-8268-4
    Published: November 2009

H. Eugene and Lillian Youngs Lehman Series

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Awards & distinctions

2010 Certificate of Merit, Association for Recorded Sound Collections Best Research in Recorded Blues, Rhythm & Blues, or Soul Music

Coup de Coeur, Académie Charles Cros, for Les Voix du Mississippi, French translation

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, folklorist William Ferris toured his home state of Mississippi, documenting the voices of African Americans as they spoke about and performed the diverse musical traditions that form the authentic roots of the blues. Now, Give My Poor Heart Ease puts front and center a searing selection of the artistically and emotionally rich voices from this invaluable documentary record. Illustrated with Ferris's photographs of the musicians and their communities and including a CD of original music, the book features more than twenty interviews relating frank, dramatic, and engaging narratives about black life and blues music in the heart of the American South.

Here are the stories of artists who have long memories and speak eloquently about their lives, blues musicians who represent a wide range of musical traditions--from one-strand instruments, bottle-blowing, and banjo to spirituals, hymns, and prison work chants. Celebrities such as B. B. King and Willie Dixon, along with performers known best in their neighborhoods, express the full range of human and artistic experience--joyful and gritty, raw and painful.

In an autobiographical introduction, Ferris reflects on how he fell in love with the vibrant musical culture that was all around him but was considered off limits to a white Mississippian during a troubled era. This magnificent volume illuminates blues music, the broader African American experience, and indeed the history and culture of America itself.

About the Author

William Ferris is Joel R. Williamson Eminent Professor of History and senior associate director of the Center for the Study of the American South at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. A former chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, Ferris coedited the Encyclopedia of Southern Culture and is the author of Blues from the Delta. Rolling Stone magazine has named him among the top ten professors in the United States. In 2010, Ferris received the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters.
For more information about William Ferris, visit the Author Page.


"Captures the cadences of [the musicians'] spoken voices and the stories of their lives, and the DVD and CD that accompany the book allow us to hear their music. . . . If the unhealed wound of injustice is everywhere present in these stories, many of the people telling them, like Ferris himself, have refused to see their lives reduced to race and stubbornly resist despair."--Harper's Magazine

"For blues lovers who love their experience pure and strong. . . . Joyous, powerful and authentic, this package is designed to both inform and entertain those willing to plunge into this audacious world."--Publishers Weekly

"An exceptional work, simultaneously one of the most beautiful and one of the most important that has ever appeared on the blues."--ABS Magazine

"A captivating and diverse multimedia experience for fans and scholars of the blues and gospel music. . . . Highly recommended for anyone interested in the blues or Southern history."--Library Journal starred review

"Personal, anecdotal, lively and full of the same spirit that helps bring blues music to life. A great mix of stories from some renowned blues greats alongside people known only in their neighborhoods."--Publishers Weekly Indie Top 20 Selection

"Ferris . . . has given historians and music fans a gift."--Anniston Star

Multimedia & Links

Visit the book website at

For the Author Q&A, click here.

Read Ferris describes his relationship with his mother and how her stories, no matter how far away, connect him to his family and continually ground him with a sense of identity. Read Comfort in My Mother’s Stories

In another guest blog post, Ferris explains how central storytelling is to a successful and fulfilling life in the South and, specifically, how it shows itself in art. Read A Little Bit of Story in Everything