Mississippi John Hurt Biography

John Smith Hurt, 3 July 1893, Teoc, Mississippi, USA, d. 2 November 1966, Grenada, Mississippi, USA. One of the major ‘rediscoveries’ during the 60s folk blues revival, Mississippi John Hurt began playing at informal gatherings and parties at the turn of the century, when guitars were still relatively uncommon. Although he worked within the idiom, Hurt did not regard himself as a blues singer and his relaxed, almost sweet, intonation contrasted with the aggressive approaches of many contemporaries. In 1928 he recorded two sessions for OKeh Records. These early masters included ‘Candy Man Blues’, ‘Louis Collins’ and ‘Ain’t No Tellin’ (aka ‘A Pallet On The Floor’), songs that were equally redolent of the ragtime tradition.

For the ensuing three decades, Hurt worked as a farm-hand, reserving music for social occasions. His seclusion ended in 1963. Armed with those seminal OKeh recordings, a blues aficionado, Tom Hoskins, followed the autobiographical lyric of ‘Avalon Blues’ and travelled to the singer’s home-town. He persuaded Hurt to undertake a series of concerts, which in turn resulted in several new recordings. Appearances at the Newport Folk Festival ensued, before the artist completed several sessions for Vanguard Records, supervised by folk singer Patrick Sky. These included masterly reinterpretations of early compositions, as well as new, equally compelling pieces. Hurt’s re-emergence was sadly brief. He died at Grenada County Hospital on 2 November 1966 following a heart attack, having inspired a new generation of country blues performers. A tribute album was issued in 2001 which featured contributions from artists such as Chris Smither, Bruce Cockburn, Lucinda Williams, Steve Earle, Peter Case, Ben Harper, Geoff Muldaur, Beck, Victoria Williams, Taj Mahal, Gillian Welch and John Hiatt.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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