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Feature Story

The Tale of the Legal Battle over the Music of John Hurt

by Heather Heilman - October 21-27, 1999
"Do you know how good you are?" Tom Hoskins once asked elderly, belatedly famous Mississippi John Hurt.  "Yeah, I know it," Hurt said. "And I been knowin' it."

John Hurt is buried deep in the wooded hills of Carroll County, but dedicated blues pilgrims manage to find his grave.
Occasional bragging notwithstanding, Mississippi John Hurt was a gentle, sweet-natured man. Those who knew him say so, and you can see it in the photographs and hear it in his voice. He was small, barely over 5 feet. His eyes were kind. There was usually a brown fedora tilted toward the back of his head and a cigarette in the corner of his mouth.
Mississippi John Hurt was not a Delta bluesman, though he is often thought of as such. Scholars consider him more of a folk artist than a bluesman. His voice is calm, bemused, free of any emotional anguish. His music seems simple to the casual listener, but he is a virtuoso guitarist whose intric…

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