Mississippi John Hurt

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Mississippi John Hurt (July 3, 1893[1][2] or March 8, 1892[3] — November 2, 1966) was an influential country blues singer and guitarist.[4] He sang in a loud whisper, to a melodious finger-picked guitar accompaniment.[5]



Born John Smith Hurt in Teoc,[6] Carroll County, Mississippi and raised in Avalon, Mississippi, Hurt 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.[7] In 1923 he partnered with the fiddle player Willie Narmour as a substitute for his regular partner Shell Smith.[7] 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).[7] 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 Great Depression, Hurt returned to Avalon and obscurity, working as a sharecropper and playing local parties and dances.[5]

In 1963, however, a folk musicologist, Tom Hoskins, inspired by the recordings, was able to locate Hurt near Avalon, Mississippi.[8] Seeing that Hurt's guitar playing skills were still intact, Hoskins encouraged him to move to Washington, D.C., and begin performing on a wider stage. His performance at the 1964 Newport Folk Festival saw his star rise amongst the new folk revival audience.[5] Before his death he played extensively in colleges, concert halls, coffee houses and also on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, as well as recording three further albums for Vanguard Records.[5] Much of his repertoire was recorded for the Library of Congress, also. The numbers his devotees particularly liked were the ragtime songs "Salty Dog" and "Candy Man", and the blues ballads "Spike Driver Blues" (a variant of "John Henry") and "Frankie".[5]

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