Fire Destroys Museum Honoring Legendary Blues Musician Mississippi John Hurt

The three-room shack in the town of Avalon, Mississippi, was once the singer and guitarist’s home

Museum Outside
The Mississippi John Hurt Museum stood on the eastern edge of the Mississippi Delta. Timothy Ivy

A museum honoring legendary blues musician Mississippi John Hurt has burned to the ground.

Located in northern Mississippi’s Carroll County, the small Mississippi John Hurt Museum was found engulfed in flames early Wednesday morning, and the building has been reduced to ash.

“I talked to the curator,” Mary Frances Hurt, the bluesman’s granddaughter, tells NPR’s Neda Ulaby. “He called me with tears in his voice. He said that it’s a mess. It’s a devastating mess.”

The Carroll County Sheriff's Office said that an electrical technician was called to the site, where he found the building ablaze, as the Clarion Ledger’s Pam Dankins reports. The police don’t suspect foul play, but Mary Frances Hurt tells NPR she believes it may have been arson.
Museum Inside
The three-room shack was once home to blues musician Mississippi John Hurt. Timothy Ivy

The museum, a 200-year-old shack with a tin roof, was once Hurt’s home. The country-blues singer and guitarist was born in the late 1800s, and he lived most of his life in Avalon, an all-Black town in the eastern Mississippi Delta. Hurt first recorded music in the 1920s, but he didn’t achieve national recognition until his talents were rediscovered during the American folk revival in the ’60s. From 1963 until his death in 1966, he played at colleges, coffeehouses and before thousands of fans at the Newport Folk Festival.

Hurt’s work both evoked and diverged from his region’s musical traditions. “Classic” Delta blues music was “melodically complex, haunting and often discordant,” featuring lyrics that described violence, infidelity and poverty, as David Brown wrote for Smithsonian magazine in 2022. “While Hurt shared that lyrical tradition, his music was different—so different that some historians don’t consider him a Delta bluesman at all.”

Hurt drew inspiration from disparate sources, including ragtime and music from minstrel and medicine shows. As jazz historian Nat Hentoff once wrote, “Hurt is not a raw, harsh chronicler of the human condition in the manner of many Mississippi-shaped blues storytellers. There is an uncommon gentleness in his work.”

Mississippi John Hurt - You Got To Walk That Lonesome Valley (Live)

The museum was located on an unmarked dirt road and manned by a local caretaker who allowed entry to visitors who were able to reach him by phone, per Smithsonian. According to the Mississippi John Hurt Foundation, run by Mary Frances Hurt, the building was a “humble three-room shack befitting of a gentle farm hand with an amazing affinity for the guitar.” It was furnished with items that either belonged to or were reminiscent of “Daddy John”; “Maxwell House coffee cans and railroad spikes are in abundance,” per the foundation.

The museum typically received an influx of visitors each fall during the Mississippi John Hurt Music Festival. It was listed on the National Historic Registry and was an official stop on the Mississippi Blues Trail, according to WJTV’s Kaitlin Howell.

With the loss of the museum, Hurt’s granddaughter says an old church is the only material remnant of the area’s history as an all-Black town, which Hurt immortalized in his 1928 song “Avalon Blues.”

“Avalon, my hometown, always on my mind,” he sang. “New York’s a good town but it’s not for mine / Goin’ back to Avalon, near where I have a pretty mama all the time.”

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