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date: 16 December 2019

Lead Bellylocked

(15 January 1888–06 December 1949)
  • Charles K. Wolfe

Extract

Lead Belly (15 January 1888–06 December 1949), folk singer and composer, was born Huddie Ledbetter on the Jeter plantation near Caddo Lake, north of Shreveport, Louisiana, the only surviving son of John Wesley Ledbetter and Sally Pugh, farmers who were reasonably well-to-do. Young Huddie (or “Hudy” as the 1910 census records list him) grew up in a large rural black community centered around the Louisiana-Texas-Arkansas junction, and he would later play at rural dances where, in his own words, “there would be no white man around for twenty miles.” Though he was exposed to the newer African-American music forms like the blues, he also absorbed many of the older fiddle tunes, play-party tunes, church songs, field hollers, badman ballads, and even old vaudeville songs of the culture. His uncle taught him a song that later became his signature tune, “Goodnight, Irene.” Though Huddie’s first instrument was a “windjammer” (a small accordian), by 1903 he had acquired a guitar and was plying his trade at local dances....

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