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Be-Bop Song Urges Humanities Study

January 6, 1999

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The head of the National Endowment for the Humanities illustrated the scope of his federal agency Wednesday by belting out Gene Vincent’s ``Be-Bop-A-Lula″ to his own guitar accompaniment in an appeal for private help.

``I’ve had a lot of requests about my singing today, but I’m going to sing anyway,″ quipped NEH Chairman William R. Ferris.

Ferris, a former anthropology professor at Yale and the University of Mississippi, got an ovation from the Washington Rotary Club.

``Like so much of American culture,″ he explained, ``we’re a merging of different traditions in the South: rich music of Africa and Europe. The blues and country music came together in the ’50s to shape a new and different sound called rock ‘n’ roll.″

Vincent, one of the pioneers of rock ‘n’ roll, died in 1971.

Ferris said time in Ireland sparked his interest in folklore and the untold stories of the American South. One story of his own involved Ray Lum, a Mississippi horse trader whom he brought to Yale and who auctioned off an old horse on the campus green.

``Let me tell you, that raised a few Ivy League eyebrows,″ he said.

Ferris called on the private clubs to help state councils for the humanities with media and technology projects, teacher-training workshops, newsletters and Web sites. In return, the agency could supply the club with interesting lunch speakers, he said.

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