Readers Respond to the November/December 2022 and January/February 2023 Issues

Your feedback on Mississippi John Hurt, captive-bred lion hunting and Stradivarius violins

The Stradivarius Myth

The Ultimate Craftsman” (November/December 2022) perpetuates the myth that Stradivari are superior in sound to modern violins. This claim has been debunked in a series of rigorously conducted double-blind tests on master violinists and audience members, published by Claudia Fritz, Joseph Curtin and colleagues in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Neither violinists nor audience members were able to distinguish the highly valued old instruments from new ones, and, in some cases, they showed a preference for the new ones. The myth of the Stradivari should be put to rest. —Daniel J. Levitin | Montreal

Mississippi John Hurt

My family and I found the article about my grandfather Mississippi John Hurt (“Tribute to a Legend,” November/December 2022) disrespectful and damaging to the foundation created in his honor. The author, David Brown, exalted himself for returning the poster he acquired from my grandfather’s home, while disparaging Daddy John’s humble lifestyle. Brown incorrectly wrote that my grandfather received royalties; my family inherited no money until we were awarded a sum through legal action. He also questions how my grandfather learned to play the guitar. Suggesting he picked it up from some ragtime-influenced record or often-racist minstrel shows was insensitive. Brown disregards the extreme racism and poverty my grandfather encountered—challenges we continue to face—and his description of the Mississippi John Hurt Museum (“If you can find it”!) was an insult to the foundation. While the museum is located in a very rural area, thousands of people from various parts of the world have found it and have attended festivals there for more than two decades. Brown did not mention my grandfather’s gravesite, which has been desecrated, as have several African American burial grounds across the nation. This is an issue I believe deserved more coverage than any poster. In summary, this article did not reflect the proud legacy of Mississippi John Hurt or the high regard his fans and family have for the life he lived. —Mary Frances Hurt | Hoffman Estates, Illinois

Lion Hunting Controversy

It is unfortunate that the author’s anti-farmed lion hunting slant comes out (“The Fate of the King,” January/February 2023). The lion industry in South Africa seems reasonably well regulated. It generates employment, brings in foreign exchange and seems to improve land management and conservation. Banning the industry would likely shift funds from social services to initiatives to wind it down; reduce employment and tax revenues; and set back land conservation. Experience has shown that people will sustainably manage natural resources when they can do so while benefiting economically and socially. —Gary Alex | Huntsville, Alabama

Kudos on a fine article. The discussion is balanced, clear, and doesn’t avoid the complexity of the issues. That’s a real accomplishment. It also recognizes that every individual and group has its biases, but it doesn’t allow that fact to alter the distinctive character of the exposition, which gives it more effect than if it had taken sides. The article reveals that the solutions are enormously complicated. Anyone who says otherwise is missing the point. —Richard Howey | Laramie, Wyoming

Your article brings up ethical questions about hunting. Yet raising animals on farms to be shot by hunters is widely accepted in the United States. I refer to the release of farm-raised ring-necked pheasants at so-called state “hunting” areas. It is not much of a stretch to accept shooting farm-raised lions once you have accepted the underlying premise. —Tom Fulk | Anacortes, Washington

Cows and chickens are raised for human consumption. But to raise animals strictly for trophy hunters to hang a stuffed head on the wall? And for the almighty dollar? It’s just wrong. —Jann Smart | Scotts Valley, California

Our cultural expectations color this controversy. Most omnivores in developed countries don’t think about the cruelty in meat production. Unless the protesters are vegan, they are hypocrites. Slaughter is slaughter regardless of the species or the killing method. —Faith Frankel | Boonton, New Jersey

Shame on South Africa that it has done so little to change the practice of hunting captive lions. More needs to be done there and in the U.S. to prevent American hunters from bringing back their trophies. —Jennifer Ward | Former U.S. ambassador to Niger | Washington, D.C.

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This article is a selection from the March 2023 issue of Smithsonian magazine

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