Many thanks to Susie James for these photos. Read her article on Narmour and Smith here.
The unveiling of the Narmour and Smith marker was done by Chip Narmour and sister Laura N. Oakes, both children of Willie’s son, the late Coleman Narmour, who shared his dad’s story of how “Carroll County Blues” came into being.
Hands carefully removed Willie Narmour’s fragile old fiddle with its hand-whittled turning peg out of its carrying case to show the public on Narmour & Smith’s big day in their county seat of Carrollton, Mississippi.
Narmour and his partner, Shellie Walton Smith, were “Narmour & Smith,” who in 1929 recorded a rousing tune they had created, “Carroll County Blues.” The duo made other recordings as well, but the Depression stunted the growth of the recording industry for years. Like John Hurt, Narmour and Smith were poor farmers — though talented musicians.
John Hurt was first recorded in the late 1920s after a neighbor, fiddler Willie Thomas Narmour, recommended him to a traveling record producer. Had it not been for these early recordings, which were found and enjoyed by some men from the Northeast during the folk music revival of the 1960s, it’s unlikely Hurt would have been “rediscovered.”
As people from that era often observed: Nobody had any money back then. Hurt would at times “spell” other musicians, including Narmour & Smith, at house parties, which comprised much of the entertainments throughout the countryside.
As it was, the late Tom Hoskins had, through listening to a number of “78s,” learned of several early talents from Carroll County around Avalon. Hoskins determined to see if some were still kicking. He came through the area in early 1963 trying to find one of them in particular: John Hurt, whose output had included “Avalon Blues.”
A soft-spoken farm worker who at the time lived in the same shotgun cabin that in July 2002 was dedicated (in a different location than from when the Hurts lived in it up on the Perkins place a bit east of the Valley Store) as the Hurt Museum, John Hurt had kept busy during the intervening years playing guitar and singing mostly for neighborhood events.