Can I just talk blues for a second?

14 Oct

So I normally do the whole birthday/deathday thing, but I just recently got home from school and work, and I don’t want to be bothered to go to Wikipedia and find somebody more noteworthy who was born or died this week than John Travolta’s brother, Joey (born today.)  I’m also running low on time before this blog post becomes published on Friday instead of Thursday, and I don’t want to have that happen again.

There’s this kind of joke among the “creative community,” for lack of a better term, that your stuff will only get famous after you die.  This is probably best exemplified by van Gogh, who sold hardly any of his work until after his death.

There’s one case I want to share with you where that almost happened, but then didn’t.  Mississippi John Hurt was an incredible blues singer and guitarist.  Born in either 1892 or 1893, he got the opportunity in 1928 to record two sessions for Okeh Records, which released many great and important jazz records.

Hurt’s commercial recordings were failures.  He moved back home to Avalon, Mississippi, and lived out the rest of his life quietly as a sharecropper, occasionally playing at parties and dances.

In 1963, though, when Hurt was in his late 60s to early 70s, a folk musicologist (perhaps inspired by the folk revival ushered in by Bob Dylan) named Tom Hoskins discovered Hurt’s recordings and managed to track him down.  Hoskins saw that Hurt’s guitar playing ability was still intact and encouraged him to move to Washington, D.C. to try to play for a wider audience.

In 1964, Hurt played at the Newport Folk Festival, where he was loved by all the folk revival fans in the audience.  Before his death in 1966, Hurt played in colleges, concert halls, and even appeared on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.

So, dear reader: if you are an author, an artist, a musician, or whatever your medium of choice is, do not be discouraged.  If it can happen for John Hurt, it can happen for you.

^John Hurt on Pete Seeger’s television show, Rainbow Quest

-Bryan Etheridge
Prose Committee Chair


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