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Museum honoring Mississippi bluesman John Hurt is destroyed in a fire

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

A museum in Avalon, Miss., was destroyed by a fire yesterday. It honored the legendary bluesman John Hurt. NPR's Neda Ulaby spoke to the musician's granddaughter.

NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: The Mississippi John Hurt Museum was a sharecropper shack with a tin roof, 200 years old. It was filled with memorabilia, all of it now gone.

MARY FRANCES HURT: Everything - the furniture he had as a child.

ULABY: Mary Frances Hurt runs her grandfather's foundation and his museum, which attracted blues fans from all over the world.

(SOUNDBITE OF MISSISSIPPI JOHN HURT SONG, "MAKE ME A PALLET ON YOUR FLOOR")

ULABY: Mississippi John Hurt taught himself to play the guitar when he was only 9 years old. At times, he could not afford his own guitar and had to borrow instruments from others. Songs Hurt recorded in the late 1920s enraptured folk music enthusiasts three decades later.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MAKE ME A PALLET ON YOUR FLOOR")

MISSISSIPPI JOHN HURT: (Singing) Make me down a pallet on your floor. Make me down.

ULABY: Before he died at the age of 73, Mississippi John Hurt played before thousands of fans at the Newport Folk Festival. His dexterous, dynamic approach to the blues was lovingly recorded by producers and archivists. Hurt's granddaughter lives in Illinois. She had not seen the damage to his museum when we spoke.

M HURT: I talked to the curator. It is burned to the ground. He called me with tears in his voice. He said that it's a mess. It's a devastating mess.

ULABY: Mary Frances Hurt believes it may have been arson. Local authorities told NPR no foul play is suspected at this time. Still Hurt worries about preserving local Black history in her grandfather's old hometown.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AVALON BLUES")

J HURT: I written this song about the hometown, Avalon.

ULABY: Avalon was immortalized in this Mississippi John Hurt song called "Avalon Blues." Recently, his granddaughter says, a local Black cemetery was encroached upon when the county widened a road. Now that the museum has burned down, she says, a church is the only thing left marking Avalon's history as a formerly all-African American town.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AVALON BLUES")

J HURT: (Singing) Avalon, my hometown, always on my mind.

ULABY: Neda Ulaby, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AVALON BLUES")

J HURT: (Singing) Avalon, my hometown, always on my mind. Pretty mama's in Avalon. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Neda Ulaby
Neda Ulaby reports on arts, entertainment, and cultural trends for NPR's Arts Desk.