Wednesday, February 18, 2009
"Mississippi" John Hurt (1893 - 1966)
Mississippi" John Smith Hurt (July 3, 1893, or March 8, 1892, Teoc, Carroll County, Mississippi - November 2, 1966, Grenada, Mississippi) was an influential blues singer and guitarist. Raised in Avalon, Mississippi, he learned to play guitar at age 9. He spent much of his youth playing old time music for friends and dances, earning a living as a farm hand into the 1920s. In 1923 he partnered with the fiddle player Willie Narmour (Carroll County Blues) as a substitute for his regular partner Shell Smith. When Narmour got a chance to record for Okeh Records as a prize for winning first place in a 1928 fiddle contest, Narmour recommended John Hurt to Okeh Records producer Tommy Rockwell. After auditioning "Monday Morning Blues" at his home, he took part in two recording sessions, in Memphis and New York City (See Discography below). The "Mississippi" tag was added by Okeh as a sales gimmick. After the commercial failure of the resulting records, and OKeh records going out of business during the depression, Hurt returned to Avalon and obscurity, working as a sharecropper and playing local parties and dances.
In 1963, however, a folk musicologist named Tom Hoskins, inspired by the recordings, was able to locate John Hurt near Avalon, Mississippi. In fact, in an early recording, Hurt sang of "Avalon, my home town." Seeing that Hurt's guitar playing skills were still intact, Hoskins encouraged him to move to Washington, DC, and begin performing on a wider stage. Whereas his first releases had coincided with the Great Depression, his new career could hardly have been better timed. A stellar performance at the 1963 Newport Folk Festival saw his star rise amongst the new "folk revival" audience, and before his death in 1966 he played extensively in colleges, concert halls, coffee houses and even the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, as well as recording three further albums for Vanguard Records. John Hurt's influence spans several music genres including blues, country, bluegrass, folk and contemporary rock and roll. A soft-spoken man, his nature was reflected in the work, which remained a mellow mix of country, blues and old time music to the end.