Ed Hurt very humbly often described himself as just another bluegrass musician, when in truth he was one of the greatest mandolin and fiddle players anywhere.
And he emceed some of the largest bluegrass and folk music festivals in the South, including the Union Grove, N.C., National Fiddlers’ Convention, which drew around a quarter of a million people when it finally closed in 1979.
He also emceed the nationally known bluegrass festivals held in Lavonia, Ga., Myrtle Beach, S.C., Dallas, Ga., and elsewhere, where he introduced on stage the who’s who of the bluegrass music world including Bill Monroe, Lester Flatt, Keith Whitley, Ralph Stanley, Ricky Skaggs, Jimmy Martin, Doc Watson, Jim & Jesse McReynolds, Mac Wiseman, The Osborne Brothers and hundreds more.
“He never worked any on the festivals I had,” said Norman Adams, of Dahlonega, Ga., who promotes major bluegrass festivals in several states, “but I saw him working at several festivals, and he was A-plus and a natural at it in my opinion.”
Hurt died Sunday at the age of 90 after being in longtime care of the Veterans Administration’s Hospice, Lenwood Division, in Augusta.
Graveside services will be 11 a.m. Wednesday in Hillcrest Memorial Park.
The native of Hazard, Ky., who lived in Augusta for 70 years, loved music from an early age and began playing it when his older brother in the military in Hawaii sent him a Hawaiian ukulele.
His father, seeing his son’s serious musical interest, got him a Gene Autry guitar. That led him also to becoming focused on his primary life instruments the guitar and fiddle.
Hurt loved playing his 150-year-plus fiddle, supposedly carved by a Native American with a small knife, and his mandolin made in 1923, the year he was born.
The famous Renfro Valley (Ky.) Barn Dance Show hired Hurt, but then World War II came along and he served in the South Pacific and was wounded and awarded a Purple Heart.
After discharge he earned an announcer’s license from the FCC and worked for WYCB-AM radio station in Bristol, Tenn., playing his instruments live for acts on the Farm and Home Hour.
Hurt ended up in Augusta in 1951 when his brother was stationed at Camp Gordon, and he became a bus driver for Continental Lines going between Asheville, N.C., and Augusta.
A chance meeting with passenger C.P. Boardman led Hurt in 1952 to join Boardman Oil Co., where he was clerk and fleet transport dispatcher for many years.
Settling in Augusta led him to form country and bluegrass bands and to organize the Peach Blossom Special live program shortly after WRDW-TV went on the air in February of 1954.
Among the Peach Blossom Special’s regular guests was pre-teen and future rock/country legend Brenda Lee.
Over the decades, Hurt became the mentor and instructor for many of Augusta’s budding musicians, including Doug and Talmadge Flowers, John Lamb and Eryn Eubanks.
“Ed worked with me when almost no other musician in town would play with me,” said Eubanks who fronts her popular Family Fold band, her own music festival and plays 15 instruments.
“I tell people I would not be the same musician and my band’s repertoire would not be the same if not for Ed Hurt. Many of the mandolin tunes I play are ones that he taught me.”
Legendary local singer Flo Carter, who knew Hurt for 60 years, said of him, “We did so many shows together over the years including at the Morris Museum of Art. I thought so much of him and his knowledge of music.
“I visited him at the VA hospital, and he would just come to life when he started talking about his music and the musicians we both knew.”
Hurt’s longtime fan and wife, Nita, died in 2005, but he continued to carry on the music they both loved.
“I don’t think it will ever die,” Hurt once said of bluegrass music. “It’s one of the last remaining things [bluegrass festivals] you can take your family to. It’s not a barroom type of music.”
To his fans and friends, the memory of Hurt himself will never die.