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Old Man River

Meet Mr. Old Man River

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More Travels With Harry

Old Man River

(Memphis) Mark Twain described the Mississippi River as a realization of the heaven pictured by priest and prophet. If that's how heaven looks, maybe what you're about to hear is how it sounds. Our traveling man Harry Smith is back from the road and the river with a salve for the soul.

Mr. Jim Hyter: There you go.

Harry Smith: There you go. Now what is this one here?

Unidentified Woman: "Basin Street Blues."

Smith: At the St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church in Memphis, we found
76-year-old Jim Hyter running through his repertoire. Hyter has a voice that at once can rattle the foundation of a building and lift your spirits at the same time.

Mr. Hyter: Well, this is gonna be a night to remember.

Smith: He's a retired insurance man...

Mr. Hyter: I have a ritual that I go through.

Smith: ...and who very well might be the most beloved living person in all of Memphis.

Mr. Hyter: Thank you.

Smith: They know him here as James Hyter, Old Man River.

Twenty-one years in a row with the Memphis Symphony behind him, Hyter has sung what he calls the Memphis anthem.

Tens of thousands of people crowd the banks of the Mississippi to hear
him sing.

Mr. Hyter: No one knows the feeling I get to see those people reach out for each other's hand or lock arms, swaying, singing for one common cause, black
and white.

Smith: It's the song and the man they love. One year he sang 12 encores;
they wouldn't let him sit down.

Crowd of People: One more time! One more time!

Smith: He only wishes his parents and grandparents could have lived to
witness his success.

Mr. Hyter: If they could see me now.

If you don't know this song now after 21 years, you never will know it. But you take the high note and I'll take the low note.

Smith: Hyter announced before this year's concert that it would be his last.

He thought perhaps he had sung the anthem enough, but judging from the
reaction of the crowd, he was wrong.

Next year when the symphony sets up on the banks of the great river,
they will surely play the song.

Mr. Hyter: That's why I say I'll sing as long as it means something to this community regardless.

Smith: Our guess is Jim Hyter will be back to sing it. Harry Smith, CBS
News, Memphis.

First aired on the CBS Evening News

June 12, 1998

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