The Old-Time Herald Volume 12, Number 7

Mississippi John Hurt: An Essential Folksong Stylist
By Daniel Fleck
Mississippi John Hurt at the Newport Folk Festival 1965. Photo by John Rudoff, M.D.

Many traditional musicians, black and white, who recorded commercially prior to World War II, did not survive to rekindle their careers or relate their life stories to researchers during the folk revival of the 1950s and ‘60s. The biographies of many early musicians consist of but a few tenuous facts, augmented by speculation, while discographies represent tantalizing glimpses of what were likely greater repositories of regional and individual artistic expression. The testimonials, musical and otherwise, of musicians who did survive, often after languishing in obscurity for decades, constitute vital historical documents which not only illuminate the individual artists and their songs but contribute to a greater understanding of a larger narrative of American music—its content, acquisition, transmission, and interaction with commercial forms. In the case of one of the most celebrated and beloved of the “rediscovered” artists, legendary African-American songster Mississippi John Hurt, we know much about his life and music from the man himself.

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