remembering mississippi john hurt today
We don’t really know when Mississippi John was born….somewhere in the early 1890’s is the best we can come up with. But thanks to my friend Vince and his website The Music’s Over but the songs live on I was reminded that on this date in 1966 a great American folk and blues musician passed away.
Watching and listening to Hurt on this particular morning when the political balance of power will likely shift to the right here in America actually feels somewhat soothing to my soul. Not because there’s a great message in his words (not to say there isn’t) but because it reminds me that art trumps bullshit. That after all the ads, all the sniping, all the rhetoric, all the threats, all the polls, all the angst, all the gloating, all the posturing, all the words, all the talk…we’re just a bunch of folks trying to get from the beginning to the end with as little damage as possible. Trying to find personal peace and serenity in our various little corners of this world.
And for myself, it’s the music that makes it so. Not writing about it so much, or even reading about it. But listening.
I’m sure Vince won’t mind if I cut and paste…
Although he was small in stature, picked the guitar lightly, and sang almost in a whisper, Mississippi John Hurt’s influence on folk and blues was huge. He learned to play the guitar before he was ten, and by the early 1920s, he had already been playing in front of crowds at local barn dances.
In 1928, and on the recommendation of a friend who had recently won an Okeh Records contract in a talent contest, Hurt was asked to audition for the label. He was signed that same year and given two recording sessions that produced collection of sides that sadly, never had a chance to develop since Okeh soon went under due to the Great Depression. Hurt soon retired from the music business and went back to his life as a sharecropper.
Fast forward about 35 years to 1963. The folk revival was in full swing when music historian, Tom Hoskins heard those old recordings and sought out to find Hurt. He tracked him down still living in Avalon, Mississippi and convinced him to move to Washington DC and relaunch his music career. Hurt’s set at the 1964 Newport Folk Festival was that of legend, and he was subsequently signed to legendary folk label, Vanguard Records.
He went on to tour the country and even perform on the Tonight Show With Johnny Carson. Hurt’s music influenced a new generation of singer-songwriters from blues to country to folk. Mississippi John Hurt died of a heart attack on November 2, 1966.