Lead Belly with a melodeon c. 1942
|Birth name||Huddie William Ledbetter|
|Also known as|
|Born||January 20, 1888|
Mooringsport, Louisiana, U.S.
|Died||December 6, 1949 61) (aged|
New York City
Huddie William Ledbetter ( // ; January 20, 1888 – December 6, 1949) was an American folk and blues singer, musician and songwriter notable for his strong vocals, virtuosity on the twelve-string guitar, and the folk standards he introduced. He is best known as Lead Belly. Though many releases credit him as "Leadbelly", he himself wrote it as "Lead Belly", which is also the spelling on his tombstone and the spelling used by the Lead Belly Foundation.
Folk music includes traditional folk music and the genre that evolved from it during the 20th-century folk revival. Some types of folk music may be called world music. Traditional folk music has been defined in several ways: as music transmitted orally, music with unknown composers, or music performed by custom over a long period of time. It has been contrasted with commercial and classical styles. The term originated in the 19th century, but folk music extends beyond that.
Blues is a music genre and musical form which was originated in the Deep South of the United States around the 1870s by African Americans from roots in African musical traditions, African-American work songs, spirituals, and the folk music of white Americans of European heritage. Blues incorporated spirituals, work songs, field hollers, shouts, chants, and rhymed simple narrative ballads. The blues form, ubiquitous in jazz, rhythm and blues and rock and roll, is characterized by the call-and-response pattern, the blues scale and specific chord progressions, of which the twelve-bar blues is the most common. Blue notes, usually thirds or fifths flattened in pitch, are also an essential part of the sound. Blues shuffles or walking bass reinforce the trance-like rhythm and form a repetitive effect known as the groove.
The 12-string guitar is a steel-string guitar with 12 strings in six courses, which produces a richer, more ringing tone than a standard six-string guitar. Typically, the strings of the lower four courses are tuned in octaves, with those of the upper two courses tuned in unisons. The gap between the strings within each dual-string course is narrow, and the strings of each course are fretted and plucked as a single unit. The neck is wider, to accommodate the extra strings, and is similar to the width of a classical guitar neck. The sound, particularly on acoustical instruments, is fuller and more harmonically resonant than six-string instruments.
Lead Belly usually played a twelve-string guitar, but he also played the piano, mandolin, harmonica, violin, and "windjammer" (diatonic accordion).In some of his recordings, he sang while clapping his hands or stomping his foot.
The piano is an acoustic, stringed musical instrument invented in Italy by Bartolomeo Cristofori around the year 1700, in which the strings are struck by hammers. It is played using a keyboard, which is a row of keys that the performer presses down or strikes with the fingers and thumbs of both hands to cause the hammers to strike the strings.
A mandolin is a stringed musical instrument in the lute family and is usually plucked with a plectrum or "pick". It commonly has four courses of doubled metal strings tuned in unison, although five and six course versions also exist. The courses are normally tuned in a succession of perfect fifths. It is the soprano member of a family that includes the mandola, octave mandolin, mandocello and mandobass.
The harmonica, also known as a French harp or mouth organ, is a free reed wind instrument used worldwide in many musical genres, notably in blues, American folk music, classical music, jazz, country, rock. There are many types of harmonica, including diatonic, chromatic, tremolo, octave, orchestral, and bass versions. A harmonica is played by using the mouth to direct air into or out of one or more holes along a mouthpiece. Behind each hole is a chamber containing at least one reed. A harmonica reed is a flat elongated spring typically made of brass, stainless steel, or bronze, which is secured at one end over a slot that serves as an airway. When the free end is made to vibrate by the player's air, it alternately blocks and unblocks the airway to produce sound.
Lead Belly's songs covered a wide range of genres and topics including gospel music; blues about women, liquor, prison life, and racism; and folk songs about cowboys, prison, work, sailors, cattle herding, and dancing. He also wrote songs about people in the news, such as Franklin D. Roosevelt, Adolf Hitler, Jean Harlow, Jack Johnson, the Scottsboro Boys and Howard Hughes. Lead Belly was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988 and the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame in 2008.
Gospel music is a genre of Christian music. The creation, performance, significance, and even the definition of gospel music varies according to culture and social context. Gospel music is composed and performed for many purposes, including aesthetic pleasure, religious or ceremonial purposes, and as an entertainment product for the marketplace. Gospel music usually has dominant vocals with Christian lyrics. Gospel music can be traced to the early 17th century, with roots in the black oral tradition. Hymns and sacred songs were often repeated in a call and response fashion. Most of the churches relied on hand clapping and foot stomping as rhythmic accompaniment. Most of the singing was done a cappella. The first published use of the term "gospel song" probably appeared in 1874. The original gospel songs were written and composed by authors such as George F. Root, Philip Bliss, Charles H. Gabriel, William Howard Doane, and Fanny Crosby. Gospel music publishing houses emerged. The advent of radio in the 1920s greatly increased the audience for gospel music. Following World War II, gospel music moved into major auditoriums, and gospel music concerts became quite elaborate.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt, often referred to by his initials FDR, was an American statesman and political leader who served as the 32nd president of the United States from 1933 until his death in 1945. A Democrat, he won a record four presidential elections and became a central figure in world events during the first half of the 20th century. Roosevelt directed the federal government during most of the Great Depression, implementing his New Deal domestic agenda in response to the worst economic crisis in U.S. history. As a dominant leader of his party, he built the New Deal Coalition, which realigned American politics into the Fifth Party System and defined American liberalism throughout the middle third of the 20th century. His third and fourth terms were dominated by World War II. Roosevelt is widely considered to be one of the most important figures in American history, as well as among the most influential figures of the 20th century. Though he has also been subject to much criticism, he is generally rated by scholars as one of the three greatest U.S. presidents, along with George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.
Adolf Hitler was a German politician and leader of the Nazi Party. He rose to power as Chancellor of Germany in 1933 and later Führer in 1934. During his dictatorship from 1933 to 1945, he initiated World War II in Europe by invading Poland in September 1939. He was closely involved in military operations throughout the war and was central to the perpetration of the Holocaust.
Lead Belly was born Huddie William Ledbetter to Sally and Wesley Ledbetter on a plantation near Mooringsport, Louisiana, on January 20, 1888.The 1900 United States Census lists "Hudy Ledbetter" as 12 years old, born January 1888, and the 1910 and 1930 censuses also give his age as corresponding to a birth in 1888. The 1940 census lists his age as 51, with information supplied by wife Martha. However, in April 1942, when Ledbetter filled out his World War II draft registration, he gave his birth date as January 23, 1889, and his birthplace as Freeport, Louisiana ("Shreveport"). His grave marker bears the date given on his draft registration.
Mooringsport is a town in Caddo Parish, Louisiana, United States. The population was 793 at the 2010 census. It is part of the Shreveport–Bossier City Metropolitan Statistical Area.
The Twelfth United States Census, conducted by the Census Office on June 1, 1900, determined the resident population of the United States to be 76,212,168, an increase of 21.0 percent over the 62,979,766 persons enumerated during the 1890 Census.
The Thirteenth United States Census, conducted by the Census Bureau on April 15, 1910, determined the resident population of the United States to be 92,228,496, an increase of 21.0 percent over the 76,212,168 persons enumerated during the 1900 Census. The 1910 Census switched from a portrait page orientation to a landscape orientation.
Ledbetter was the younger of two children born to Wesley Ledbetter and Sallie Brown. The pronunciation of his name is often purported to be "HYEW-dee" or "HUGH-dee".Leadbelly, himself, can be heard pronouncing his name correctly as "HUH-dee" on the track "Boll Weevil," from the Smithsonian Folkways album Lead Belly Sings for Children. His parents had cohabited for several years, but they legally married on February 26, 1888. When Huddie was five years old, the family settled in Bowie County, Texas.
Smithsonian Folkways is the nonprofit record label of the Smithsonian Institution. It is a part of the Smithsonian's Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, located at Capital Gallery in downtown Washington, D.C. The label was founded in 1987 after the family of Moses Asch, founder of Folkways Records, donated the entire Folkways Records label to the Smithsonian. The donation was made on the condition that the Institution continue Asch's policy that each of the more than 2,000 albums of Folkways Records remain in print forever, regardless of sales. Since then, the label has expanded on Asch's vision of documenting the sounds of the world, adding six other record labels to the collection, as well as releasing over 300 new recordings. Some well-known artists have contributed to the Smithsonian Folkways collection, including Pete Seeger, Ella Jenkins, Woody Guthrie, and Lead Belly. Famous songs include "This Land Is Your Land", "Goodnight, Irene", and "Midnight Special." Due to the unique nature of its recordings, which include an extensive collection of traditional American music, children's music, and international music, Smithsonian Folkways has become an important collection to the musical community, especially to ethnomusicologists, who utilize the recordings of "people's music" from all over the world.
Cohabitation is an arrangement where two people who are not married live together. They often involve a romantic or sexually intimate relationship on a long-term or permanent basis.
Bowie County is a county in the U.S. state of Texas. As of the 2010 census, the population was 92,565. Its legal county seat is Boston, though its courthouse is located in New Boston. The county is named for James Bowie, the legendary knife fighter who died at the Battle of the Alamo.
The 1910 census of Harrison County, Texas, shows "Hudy" Ledbetter living next door to his parents with his first wife, Aletha "Lethe" Henderson. Aletha is registered as age 19 and married one year. Others say she was 15 when they married in 1908. It was in Texas that Ledbetter received his first instrument, an accordion, from his uncle Terrell. By his early twenties, having fathered at least two children, Ledbetter left home to make his living as a guitarist and occasional laborer. When Lead Belly was released from his last prison sentence, the United States was deep in the Great Depression, and jobs were very scarce. In September 1934, in need of regular work in order to avoid cancellation of his release from prison, Lead Belly asked John Lomax to take him on as a driver. For three months, he assisted the 67-year-old in his folk song collecting around the South (Alan Lomax was ill and did not accompany his father on this trip).
Harrison County is a county on the eastern border of the U.S. state of Texas. As of the 2010 census, its population was 65,631. The county seat is Marshall. The county was created in 1839 and organized in 1842. It is named for Jonas Harrison, a lawyer and Texas revolutionary.
Accordions are a family of box-shaped musical instruments of the bellows-driven free-reed aerophone type, colloquially referred to as a squeezebox. A person who plays the accordion is called an accordionist. The concertina and bandoneón are related; the harmonium and American reed organ are in the same family.
The Great Depression was a severe worldwide economic depression that took place mostly during the 1930s, beginning in the United States. The timing of the Great Depression varied across nations; in most countries it started in 1929 and lasted until the late-1930s. It was the longest, deepest, and most widespread depression of the 20th century. In the 21st century, the Great Depression is commonly used as an example of how intensely the world's economy can decline.
By 1903, Huddie was already a "musicianer", [ page needed ] He was "discovered" there three years later during a visit by folklorists John Lomax and his son Alan Lomax.a singer and guitarist of some note. He performed for nearby Shreveport audiences in St. Paul's Bottoms, a notorious red-light district there. He began to develop his own style of music after exposure to various musical influences on Shreveport's Fannin Street, a row of saloons, brothels, and dance halls in the Bottoms, now referred to as Ledbetter Heights. While in prison, Lead Belly may have first heard the traditional prison song "Midnight Special".
Deeply impressed by Ledbetter's vibrant tenor and extensive repertoire, the Lomaxes recorded him in 1933 on portable aluminum disc recording equipment for the Library of Congress. They returned with new and better equipment in July 1934, recording hundreds of his songs. On August 1, Ledbetter was released after having again served nearly all of his minimum sentence, following a petition the Lomaxes had taken to Louisiana Governor Oscar K. Allen at his urgent request. It was on the other side of a recording of his signature song, "Goodnight Irene."[ clarification needed ] A prison official later wrote to John Lomax denying that Ledbetter's singing had anything to do with his release from Angola (state prison records confirm he was eligible for early release due to good behavior). However, both Ledbetter and the Lomaxes believed that the record they had taken to the governor had hastened his release from prison.
In December 1934, Lead Belly participated in a "smoker" (group sing) at a Modern Language Association meeting at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania, where the senior Lomax had a prior lecturing engagement. He was written up in the press as a convict who had sung his way out of prison. On New Year's Day, 1935, the pair arrived in New York City, where Lomax was scheduled to meet with his publisher, Macmillan, about a new collection of folk songs. The newspapers were eager to write about the "singing convict," and Time magazine made one of its first March of Time newsreels about him. Lead Belly attained fame (although not fortune). The following week, he began recording for the American Record Corporation, but these recordings achieved little commercial success. He recorded over 40 sides for ARC (intended to be released on their Banner, Melotone, Oriole, Perfect, and Romeo labels and their short-lived Paramount series), but only five sides were actually issued. Part of the reason for the poor sales may have been that ARC released only his blues songs rather than the folk songs for which he would later become better known. Lead Belly continued to struggle financially. Like many performers, what income he made during his career would come from touring, not from record sales.
In February 1935, he married his girlfriend, Martha Promise, who came North from Louisiana to join him.
The month of February was spent recording his repertoire and those of other African Americans and interviews about his life with Alan Lomax for their forthcoming book, Negro Folk Songs As Sung by Lead Belly (1936). Concert appearances were slow to materialize. In March 1935, Lead Belly accompanied John Lomax on a previously scheduled two-week lecture tour of colleges and universities in the Northeast, culminating at Harvard. At the end of the month, John Lomax decided he could no longer work with Lead Belly and gave him and Martha money to go back to Louisiana by bus. He gave Martha the money her husband had earned during three months of performing, but in installments, on the pretext Lead Belly would spend it all on drinking if given a lump sum. From Louisiana, Lead Belly successfully sued Lomax for both the full amount and release from his management contract. The quarrel was bitter, with hard feelings on both sides. Curiously, in the midst of the legal wrangling, Lead Belly wrote to Lomax proposing they team up again, but it was not to be. Further, the book about Lead Belly published by the Lomaxes in the fall of the following year proved a commercial failure.
In January 1936, Lead Belly returned to New York on his own, without John Lomax, in an attempted comeback. He performed twice a day at Harlem's Apollo Theater during the Easter season in a live dramatic recreation of the March of Time newsreel (itself a recreation) about his prison encounter with John Lomax, where he had worn stripes, though by this time he was no longer associated with Lomax.
Life magazine ran a three-page article titled "Lead Belly: Bad Nigger Makes Good Minstrel" in its issue of April 19, 1937. It included a full-page, color (rare in those days) picture of him sitting on grain sacks playing his guitar and singing.Also included was a striking picture of Martha Promise (identified in the article as his manager); photos showing Lead Belly's hands playing the guitar (with the caption "these hands once killed a man"); Texas Governor Pat M. Neff; and the "ramshackle" Texas State Penitentiary. The article attributes both of his pardons to his singing of his petitions to the governors, who were so moved that they pardoned him. The text of the article ends with "he... may well be on the brink of a new and prosperous period."
Lead Belly failed to stir the enthusiasm of Harlem audiences. Instead, he attained success playing at concerts and benefits for an audience of leftist folk music aficionados. He developed his own style of singing and explaining his repertoire in the context of Southern black culture having learned from his participation in Lomax's college lectures. He was especially successful with his repertoire of children's game songs (as a younger man in Louisiana he had sung regularly at children's birthday parties in the black community). He was written about as a heroic figure by the black novelist Richard Wright, then a member of the Communist Party, in the columns of the Daily Worker, of which Wright was the Harlem editor. The two men became personal friends, though some say Lead Belly himself was apolitical and, if anything, was a supporter of Wendell Willkie, the centrist Republican candidate for President, for whom he wrote a campaign song. However, he also wrote the song "Bourgeois Blues", which has radical or left-wing lyrics.
In 1939, Lead Belly returned to prison. Alan Lomax, then 24, took him under his wing and helped raise money for his legal expenses, dropping out of graduate school to do so. After his release (in 1940–41), Lead Belly appeared as a regular on Alan Lomax and Nicholas Ray's groundbreaking CBS radio show Back Where I Come From, broadcast nationwide. He also appeared in nightclubs with Josh White, becoming a fixture in New York City's surging folk music scene and befriending the likes of Sonny Terry, Brownie McGhee, Woody Guthrie, and a young Pete Seeger, all fellow performers on Back Where I Come From. During the first half of the decade, he recorded for RCA, the Library of Congress, and Moe Asch (future founder of Folkways Records) and in 1944 went to California, where he recorded strong sessions for Capitol Records. He lodged with a studio guitar player on Merrywood Drive in Laurel Canyon. Lead Belly was the first American country blues musician to achieve success in Europe.
In 1949, Lead Belly had a regular radio show, Folk Songs of America, broadcast on station WNYC in New York, on Henrietta Yurchenco's show on Sunday nights. Later in the year he began his first European tour with a trip to France, but fell ill before its completion and was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig's disease (a motor neuron disease).His final concert was at the University of Texas at Austin in a tribute to his former mentor, John Lomax, who had died the previous year. Martha also performed at that concert, singing spirituals with her husband.
Lead Belly died later that year in New York City and was buried in the Shiloh Baptist Church cemetery, in Mooringsport, Louisiana, 8 miles (13 km) west of Blanchard, in Caddo Parish. He is honored with a statue across from the Caddo Parish Courthouse, in Shreveport.
Lead Belly was imprisoned multiple times beginning in 1915 when he was convicted of carrying a pistol and sentenced to time on the Harrison County chain gang. He later escaped and found work in nearby Bowie County under the assumed name of Walter Boyd. Later, in January 1918, he was imprisoned at the Imperial Farm (now Central Unit)in Sugar Land, Texas, after killing one of his relatives, Will Stafford, in a fight over a woman. During his second prison term, another inmate stabbed him in the neck (leaving him with a fearsome scar he subsequently covered with a bandana); Ledbetter nearly killed his attacker with his own knife.
In 1925 he was pardoned and released after writing a song to Governor Pat Morris Neff seeking his freedom, having served the minimum seven years of a 7-to-35-year sentence. Combined with his good behavior, which included entertaining the guards and fellow prisoners, his appeal to Neff's strong religious beliefs proved sufficient. It was a testament to his persuasive powers, as Neff had run for governor on a pledge not to issue pardons (the only recourse for prisoners, since in most Southern prisons there was no provision for parole).[ citation needed ] According to Charles K. Wolfe and Kip Lornell in their book The Life and Legend of Leadbelly (1999), Neff had regularly brought guests to the prison on Sunday picnics to hear Ledbetter perform.
In 1930, Ledbetter was sentenced to Louisiana's Angola Prison Farm after a summary trial for attempted homicide for stabbing a white man in a fight. In 1939, Lead Belly served his final jail term for assault after stabbing a man in a fight in Manhattan.
There are several conflicting stories about how Ledbetter acquired the nickname "Lead Belly", but he probably acquired it while in prison. Some claim his fellow inmates called him "Lead Belly" as a play on his family name and his physical toughness. Others say he earned the name after being wounded in the stomach with buckshot.Another theory is that the name refers to his ability to drink moonshine, the homemade liquor that Southern farmers, black and white, made to supplement their incomes.
Blues singer Big Bill Broonzy thought it came from a supposed tendency to lie about as if "with a stomach weighted down by lead" in the shade when the chain gang was supposed to be working.Yet another theory is that it may be a corruption of his last name pronounced with a Southern accent. Whatever its origin, he adopted the nickname as a pseudonym while performing.
Lead Belly styled himself "King of the Twelve-String Guitar," and despite his use of other instruments like the accordion, the most enduring image of Lead Belly as a performer is wielding his unusually large Stella twelve-string.This guitar had a slightly longer scale length than a standard guitar, increasing the tension on the instrument, which, given the added tension of the six extra strings, meant that a trapeze-style tailpiece helped resist bridge lifting. It had slotted tuners and ladder bracing.
Lead Belly played with finger picks much of the time, using a thumb pick to provide a walking bass line and occasionally to strum.[ citation needed ] This technique, combined with low tunings and heavy strings, gives many of his recordings a piano-like sound. Lead Belly's tunings are debated by both modern and contemporary musicians and blues enthusiasts alike — exacerbated by the lack of film footage of his performing rendering chord decoding difficult — but it seems to be a down-tuned variant of standard tuning; it is likely that he tuned his guitar strings relative to one another, so that the actual notes shifted as the strings wore. Lead Belly's playing style was popularized by Pete Seeger, who adopted the twelve-string guitar in the 1950s and released an instructional LP and book using Lead Belly as an exemplar of technique.
In some of the recordings in which Lead Belly accompanied himself, he would make an unusual type of grunt between his verses, best described as "Haah! " Songs such as "Looky Looky Yonder," "Take This Hammer,""Linin' Track" and "Julie Ann Johnson" feature this unusual vocalization. In "Take This Hammer," Lead Belly explained, "Every time the men say, 'Haah,' the hammer falls. The hammer rings, and we swing, and we sing." The "haah" sound can be heard in work chants sung by Southern railroad section workers, "gandy dancers," in which it was used to coordinate work crews as they laid and maintained tracks.
In 1976, a biopic entitled Leadbelly was released, directed by Gordon Parks and featuring Roger E. Mosley as Lead Belly.
Kurt Cobain promoted the legacy of Lead Belly, and some modern rock audiences often owe their familiarity with Lead Belly to Nirvana's performance of "Where Did You Sleep Last Night" on a televised concert later released as MTV Unplugged in New York .Cobain refers to his attempt to convince David Geffen to purchase Lead Belly's guitar for him in an interval before the song is played (connecting the song with Lead Belly in a way that is more tangible than the liner notes where Lead Belly appears on other albums). In his notebooks, Cobain listed Lead Belly's Last Session Vol. 1 as one of the 50 albums most influential in the formation of Nirvana's sound. It was included in NME's "The 100 Greatest Albums You've Never Heard list".
Influenced by the sinking of the Titanic in April 1912, Ledbetter wrote the song "The Titanic",his first composition on the twelve-string guitar, which later became his signature instrument. Initially played when performing with Blind Lemon Jefferson (1893–1929) in and around Dallas, Texas, the song is about champion African-American boxer Jack Johnson's being denied passage on the Titanic. Johnson had in fact been denied passage on a ship for being black, but it was not the Titanic. Still, the song includes the lyric "Jack Johnson tried to get on board. The Captain, he says, 'I ain't haulin' no coal!' Fare thee, Titanic! Fare thee well!" Ledbetter later noted he had to leave out this passage when playing in front of white audiences.
The Library of Congress recordings, made by John and Alan Lomax from 1934 to 1943, were released in a six-volume series by Rounder Records:
The Folkways recordings, done for Moses Asch from 1941 to 1947, were released in a three-volume series by Smithsonian Folkways:
Smithsonian Folkways has released several other collections of his recordings:
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Alan Lomax was an American ethnomusicologist, best known for his numerous field recordings of folk music of the 20th century. He was also a musician himself, as well as a folklorist, archivist, writer, scholar, political activist, oral historian, and film-maker. Lomax produced recordings, concerts, and radio shows in the US and in England, which played an important role in preserving folk music traditions in both countries, and helped start both the American and British folk revivals of the 1940s, 1950s and early 1960s. He collected material first with his father, folklorist and collector John A. Lomax, and later alone and with others, Lomax recorded thousands of songs and interviews for the Archive of American Folk Song, of which he was the director, at the Library of Congress on aluminum and acetate discs.
John Avery Lomax was an American teacher, a pioneering musicologist, and a folklorist who did much for the preservation of American folk music. He was the father of Alan Lomax and Bess Lomax Hawes.
"Goodnight, Irene" or "Irene, Goodnight," is a 20th-century American folk standard, written in 3/4 time, first recorded by American blues musician Huddie 'Lead Belly' Ledbetter in 1933.
"Black Betty" is a 20th-century African-American work song often credited to Huddie "Lead Belly" Ledbetter as the author, though the earliest recordings are not by him. Some sources claim it is one of Lead Belly's many adaptations of earlier folk material; in this case an 18th-century marching cadence about a flintlock musket. There are numerous recorded versions, including a cappella, folk, and rock arrangements. The best known modern recordings are rock versions by Ram Jam, Sir Tom Jones, and Spiderbait, all of which were hits.
"The Bourgeois Blues" is a blues song by American folk and blues musician Lead Belly. It was written in June 1937 in response to the discrimination and segregation that Lead Belly faced during a visit to Washington, DC to record for Alan Lomax. It rails against racism, the Jim Crow laws, and the conditions of contemporary African Americans in the southern United States.
"He Never Said a Mumblin' Word" is an American spiritual folk song.
"Midnight Special" is a traditional folk song thought to have originated among prisoners in the American South. The song refers to the passenger train Midnight Special and its "ever-loving light".
Leadbelly is a 1976 film chronicling the life of folk singer Huddie William Ledbetter. The film was directed by Gordon Parks, and starred Roger E. Mosley in the title role. The film focuses on the troubles of Lead Belly's youth in the segregated South including his time in prison, and his efforts to use his music to gain release.
"Rock Island Line" is an American folk song. Ostensibly about the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad, it appeared as a folk song as early as 1929. The first recorded performance of "Rock Island Line" was by inmates of the Arkansas Cummins State Farm prison in 1934.
"Ain't No More Cane on This Brazos" is a traditional prison work song of the Southern United States. The title refers to work assigned to prisoners sentenced to hard labor in Texas. The labor involved cutting sugar cane along the banks of the Brazos River, where many of the state's prison farms were located in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
"Take a Whiff on Me" is an American folk song, with references to the use of cocaine. It is also known as "Take a Whiff ", "Cocaine Habit", and "Cocaine Habit Blues".
"Take This Hammer" is a prison, logging, and railroad work song, which has the same Roud number as another song, "Nine Pound Hammer", with which it shares verses. "Swannanoa Tunnel" and "Asheville Junction" are similar. Together, this group of songs are referred to as "hammer songs" or "roll songs". Numerous bluegrass bands and singers like Scott McGill and Mississippi John Hurt also recorded commercial versions of this song, nearly all of them containing verses about the legendary spike driver, John Henry; and even when they do not, writes folklorist Kip Lornell, "one feels his strong and valorous presence in the song".
Looking for a Home is an album by American folk singer Odetta, released in 2001. It consists of songs written and/or performed by Huddie Ledbetter, better known as Leadbelly.
Absolutely the Best is a compilation album by American folk singer Odetta, originally released in 2000.
Best of the M.C. Records Years 1999–2005 is a compilation album by American folk singer Odetta, released in 2006. It contains songs she recorded on the M.C. Records label.
Harriet Elizabeth "Hally" Wood was an American musician, singer and folk musicologist. She worked with John and Alan Lomax and participated in the publication of songbooks for the works of artists like Lead Belly and Woody Guthrie. She also performed as a singer and recorded solo and collaborative albums with folk singers such as Pete Seeger.
James "Iron Head" Baker and Moses "Clear Rock" Platt were African American traditional folk singers imprisoned in the Central State Prison Farm in Sugar Land, Texas. They are notable for a number of field recordings of work songs and other material made by John Lomax for the Library of Congress Archive of American Folk Music in the 1930s.
American Epic: The Best of Lead Belly is a compilation of Lead Belly’s first commercial recordings made in 1935 and released in 2017 to accompany the award-winning American Epic documentary film series. The album was released as a 14-track download and a vinyl LP.