Give My Poor Heart Ease: Voices of the Mississippi Blues

By William Ferris | Go to book overview

CENTREVILLE

Fannie Bell Chapman was a charismatic faith healer who composed gospel music that she sang at religious ceremonies she conducted in Centreville. Centreville was also the home of Anne Moody, whose book Coming of Age in Mississippi chronicled her struggles during the civil rights movement.

Chapman was part of a long, important tradition of black women who sang and healed outside the male-dominated church. Denied access to the pulpit, these women became spiritual healers who performed their own religious ceremonies. They took their healing into the streets and back roads of their community and had a significant impact on their followers.

Chapman described her healing ceremony as “a hallelujah time.” During the ceremony, the spirit descended and people were possessed, some spoke in tongues, and Chapman healed the sick. During one memorable ceremony in her living room, the floor began to shake as worshippers danced. Chapman continued to sing as she waved her hand and summoned dancers out of the house and into her backyard, where she continued the ceremony.

I first met Fannie Bell Chapman when I was recording blues singers around Centreville in the late sixties. I recorded her gospel music and interviewed Chapman and her family. Impressed by the quality of her music, I returned in 1972 with Judy Peiser and made a documentary film on Chapman and her family entitled Fannie Bell Chapman, Gospel Singer that was produced by the Center for Southern Folklore.

As a folklorist, I was deeply influenced by Chapman. She told me I had “power eyes” and that with help from her I could have the power to heal with my eyes. She said, “I know because I have that same power.”

Chapman told me that she also had the power to control weather and could summon a thunderstorm. While she could do more than heal if she

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Give My Poor Heart Ease: Voices of the Mississippi Blues
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents viii
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • Introduction 1
  • Blues Roots 11
  • Rose Hill 13
  • Lake Mary 29
  • Lorman 47
  • Centreville 57
  • Gravel Springs 67
  • Parchman Penitentiary 77
  • Tutwiler 89
  • A Delta Road in Coahoma County 98
  • Blues Towns and Cities 103
  • Leland 105
  • Clarksdale 143
  • Wokj, Jackson 160
  • Beale Street 170
  • Looking Back 175
  • Willie Dixon 177
  • B. B. King 185
  • Sacred and Secular Worlds 203
  • Rose Hill Church 205
  • Clarksdale 222
  • Epilogue 255
  • Selected Bibliography, Discography, Filmography, and Websites 259
  • Index 291
  • H. Eugene and Lillian Youngs Lehman Series 299
  • CD and Dvd Notes 301
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