Center for Southern Folklore

The Center for Southern Folklore, located in Memphis, is a nonprofit corporation dedicated to documenting and presenting the people and traditions of the South. Through films, video tapes, records, books, exhibits, and festivals, the center presents the life of indigenous and ethnic cultures in the region and preserves folk culture through its sound, photographic, and slide archives.

Founded in 1972 by a young filmmaker, Judy Peiser, and folklorist William Ferris, the center immediately won praise–and film festival prizes–for it's first film, Gravel Springs Fife and Drum. Other films, including Ray Lum, Mule Trader; Mississippi Delta Blues; Fannie Belle Chapman, Gospel Singer; Hush Hoggies Hush: Tom Johnson's Praying Pigs; and All Day and All Night: Memories from Beale Street Musicians, have attracted national attention. The center has received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Rockefeller Foundation to develop a series of films, records, and books on southern culture.

The work of the center appeals to a variety of audiences. Tourists to Beale Street read the outdoor informative signs that tell the history of the street. The center reaches schools, museums, and libraries with books like The Heritage of Black Music in Memphis: A Teaching Resource and multimedia presentations such as If Beale Street Could Talk; Got Something to Tell You: Sounds of the Delta Blues; and Colors, Shapes, and Memories: Three Folk Artists. Popular audiences enjoy the center's recordings, which include Memphis Rocks: Rockabilly in Memphis and James “Son” Thomas: Highway 61 Blues, and recent exhibits such as “Taylor Made Pictures,” photographs chronicling life in the Memphis black community from the 1920s to the 1950s, and “Memphis Soul: Music of the 60s and 70s,” photographs and artifacts from the Stax and Hi recording era.

A series of small festivals and collaboration with the Smithsonian Institution led to the annual Mid-South Music and Heritage Festival. Since 1988 this mid-July festival has featured the food, music, dance, and folk art of the Mid-South, including that of recently arrived residents like the Hmong, Vietnamese, Indian, and Latino communities.

Today the center works with writers, journalists, theater producers, school groups, and tourists to interpret the culture of the South through its resources of archives, exhibits, films, records, books, and live performances.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title Center for Southern Folklore
  • Author
  • Website Name Tennessee Encyclopedia
  • URL
  • Access Date July 20, 2024
  • Publisher Tennessee Historical Society
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update March 1, 2018