Mississippi John Hurt - "Avalon's my home town"
John Smith Hurt was born in Carroll County, Mississippi on March 8, 1892. He left school after the fourth grade to work as a farmhand. His mother bought him a second hand guitar for $1.50 when he was nine and he began teaching himself to play. His hometown of Avalon, Mississippi was nothing more than a collection of makeshift shacks, isolated from the outside world except for the Illinois Central Railroad tracks that ran nearby.
After his father’s death, John Hurt helped his mother raise corn, cotton and potatoes. His mother took in laundry and John hired himself out to neighboring farms. John was also playing his guitar at local events for spending money. Sometime around 1923 a white fiddler by the name of Willie Narmour (Carroll County Blues) hired Hurt to sit in for his regular partner. A few years later Narmour won a fiddle contest where the prize was a recording session with Okeh Records. When the record producer showed up he asked if there might be any other local talent. Narmour took him to Hurt’s shack. The encounter led to several recording sessions and brief success. The “Mississippi” moniker was added to John’s records as a sales gimmick.
As the Depression was taking its toll on the recording industry, John Hurt returned to his home in Avalon to help his mother with the farm. Thirty years later, with the renewed interest in early folk music, Folkways Records re-released several of John’s songs on its American Folk Music series. John Hurt was gathering a whole new following of fans, and he didn’t know it. No one knew who Mississippi John Hurt was or if he was still alive.
In 1963 record collector, Tom Hoskins, heard John Hurt’s song “Avalon Blues” and made the connection.
"Avalon my home town, always on my mind,
Avalon my home town, always on my mind,
Pretty mama's in Avalon, want me there all the time"
After three decades John Hurt was “rediscovered”. He began recording and playing festivals, including the Newport Folk Festival in 1964. He enjoyed his second chance at fame for three years before his death November 2, 1966 in Grenada, Mississippi.