June 2014

Clyde “Pop” Ferguson Sr. and Clyde Ferguson Jr.

Musicians and Educators

Clyde “Pop” Ferguson Sr. got his first taste of the blues outside a Caldwell County juke joint. Because his father, a preacher, wouldn’t allow him to go inside, the youngster paid passersby a nickel to play tunes on the jukebox that could be heard outside “He would absorb the melody, run half a mile home and work on his guitar until he could play it perfectly,” Clyde Ferguson Jr. recalls. Ferguson Sr. has been a traveling musician all his life and served briefly in the U.S. Army in the Philippines during World War II. He now lives in Lenoir. “He traded his guitar for an explosive truck,” said Ferguson Jr., who was born in 1951 and was estranged from his father most of his life. In 2008, the two reunited and formed the blues band Pop Ferguson and the Blues Review and the Pop Ferguson Blues Heritage Festival in Lenoir. The younger Ferguson inherited his father’s musical passion and talent. Both father and son can play several instruments, but the elder prefers guitar and Ferguson Jr. sticks to bass. The Fergusons see their music as mixing entertainment and education, helping to raise the cultural awareness of listeners. Pop Ferguson and the Blues Review frequently performs for diverse audiences statewide, showcasing historical songs from the 1920s-1950s. Between numbers, they provide the historical context of the tunes. “The blues developed from storytelling and that’s important to me,” Ferguson Jr. said. The blues festival marked its fifth year in 2013 with the theme Women of the Blues, featuring several Grammy winners and nominees. It drew more than 3,500 people. The younger Ferguson earned degrees from Mitchell College and Gardner Webb  University. He then spent 10 years strengthening music programs as a high school band director. “Every time I would win a national or statewide championship at a school, I would leave and go to a new school,” he said. “I would find another underdog.” Father and son have each played a major role in preserving and celebrating African American music. In 2008, “Pop” was inducted into the Smithsonian Institute Hall for his work in African-American music.The younger Ferguson has designed an extensive, interdisciplinary teaching program called Roots Music in the Classroom. The program, like the festival, teaches African-American and U.S. history through the music of African-Americans. It emphasizes the connection between the blues and oral history. He is writing grants for the program and working to implement it in schools in Lenoir. “I want these kids to learn how subcultures tie together to make a society,” Ferguson Jr. said. “This is my dream.”