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John Hurt’s Blues Trail Marker to return after repairs
by By Susie James for The Conservative
Aug 22, 2013 | 269 views | 0 0 comments | 106 106 recommendations | email to a friend | print
AVALON -- There's been something missing from near the Valley Store in the hills east of here for several weeks -- the Blues Trail Marker that was dedicated to Mississippi John Hurt in February 2008.

Like the famed blues guitarist and songster, however, the marker's due for a comeback.

Wanda Clark, project coordinator for the Mississippi Blues Commission, said last week that the damaged marker, which was propped against the side of the lobby counter at the time at Hammons & Associates in Greenwood, will be replaced by a new one that is being produced by a foundry.

Clark said the damaged marker had been knocked off its post near the Valley Store several weeks previously and had been brought to her about two weeks earlier by Floyd Bailey, a longtime worker with the Mississippi John Hurt Museum. She doesn't think the damage was from vandalism, she said.

It's not clear whether the new marker will be finished in time for installation prior to the annual John Hurt Homecoming Festival, which will take place August 31 and September 1 on the grounds of the Hurt Museum. The Museum is in a nearby valley on property owned by Hurt's granddaughter, Mary Frances Hurt-Wright.

Hurt often shopped at the Valley Store and on Saturdays would play there sometimes.

John Hurt was first recorded in the late 1920s after a neighbor, fiddler Willie Thomas Narmour, recommended him to a traveling record producer. Had it not been for these early recordings, which were found and enjoyed by some men from the Northeast during the folk music revival of the 1960s, it's unlikely Hurt would have been "rediscovered."

Narmour and his partner, Shellie Walton Smith, were "Narmour & Smith," who in 1929 recorded a rousing tune they had created, "Carroll County Blues." The duo made other recordings as well, but the Depression stunted the growth of the recording industry for years. Like Hurt, Narmour and Smith were poor farmers -- though talented musicians.

As people from that era often observed: Nobody had any money back then. Hurt would at times "spell" other musicians, including Narmour & Smith, at house parties, which comprised much of the entertainments throughout the countryside.

As it was, the late Tom Hoskins had, through listening to a number of "78s," learned of several early talents from Carroll County around Avalon. Hoskins determined to see if some were still kicking. He came through the area in early 1963 trying to find one of them in particular: John Hurt, whose output had included "Avalon Blues." A soft-spoken farm worker who at the time lived in the same shotgun cabin that in July 2002 was dedicated (in a different location than from when the Hurts lived in it up on the Perkins place a bit east of the Valley Store) as the Hurt Museum, John Hurt had kept busy during the intervening years playing guitar and singing mostly for neighborhood events.

Hoskins's field recordings of Hurt and others in his household back then eventually were produced a couple of years ago on the compact disc, "Discovery." But Hurt made the live performance circuit for a few years, living outside Mississippi during part of that time before retiring to Grenada in 1965. He died in November 1966 and is buried in a little cemetery on the ridge above Avalon.

Hurt-Wright has been working with McCarley-based surveyor John Lott, she said recently, to try and get a deed to the area known as the Hurt, or St. James Church Cemetery, where her grandfather's grave is located -- and is a place of pilgrimage for fans from across the world.

Hurt performed at coffee shops, colleges, festivals around the United States as well as overseas and made more recordings. There's a bit of a disagreement as to whether Hurt was born in 1892 or in 1893. He was the baby of the family, though, and he spoke of growing up without knowing his father, Isom Hurt. His mother was Mary Jane McCain Hurt.

Much admired for his guitar playing -- he taught himself while just a lad on a borrowed guitar -- Hurt contributed much to the world of music. His work has garnered him much recognition internationally, continuing in the decades after his death.
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