(H. Ledbetter — J. & A. Lomax)
New York, June 17, 1940
Lead Belly (vcl) (g)
Huddie William Ledbetter, (January, 1888 — December 6, 1949) was an American folk and blues musician, notable for his clear and forceful singing, his virtuosity on the twelve string guitar, and the rich songbook of folk standards he introduced.
He is best known as Leadbelly or Lead Belly. Though many releases list him as "Leadbelly," he himself spelled it "Lead Belly." This is also the usage on his tombstone, as well as the Lead Belly Foundation.
Although he most commonly played the twelve string, he could also play the piano, mandolin, harmonica, violin, concertina, and accordion. In some of his recordings, such as in one of his versions of the folk ballad "John Hardy", he performs on the accordion instead of the guitar. In other recordings he just sings while clapping his hands or stomping his foot. The topics of Lead Belly's music covered a wide range of subjects, including gospel songs; blues songs about women, liquor and racism; and folk songs about cowboys, prison, work, sailors, cattle herding and dancing. He also wrote songs concerning the newsmakers of the day, such as President Franklin Roosevelt, Adolf Hitler, Jean Harlow, the Scottsboro Boys and multi-millionaire Howard Hughes. Fame in 1986.
The day of his birth has also been debated. The most common date given is January 20, but other sources suggest he was born on January 21 or 29. The only document we have that Ledbetter, himself, helped fill out is his World War II draft registration from 1942 where he gives his birth date as January 23, 1889
Lead Belly's boastful spirit and penchant for the occasional skirmish sometimes led him into trouble with the law, and in January 1918 he was thrown into prison for the second time, this time after killing one of his relatives, Will Stafford, in a fight. He was incarcerated in Sugar Land, Texas and it is there that he got the inspiration for the song Midnight Special. It is said that he was released two years into his 35-year sentence after writing a song appealing to Governor Pat Morris Neff for his freedom. Lead Belly had swayed Governor Neff by appealing to his strong religious values. That, in combination with good behavior (including entertaining by playing for the guards and fellow prisoners), was Lead Belly's ticket out of jail.
In 1930, Lead Belly was back in prison, this time in Louisiana for attempted homicide. It was there, three years later, that he was "discovered" by musicologists John and Alan Lomax, who were enchanted by his talent, passion and singularity as a performer, and recorded hundreds of his songs on portable recording equipment for the Library of Congress. The following year Lead Belly was once again pardoned, this time after a petition for his early release was taken to Louisiana Governor O.K. Allen by the Lomaxes. The petition was on the other side of a recording of one of his most popular songs, "Goodnight Irene". The state's prison records, however, show he was released due to
for more Information see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lead_Belly