Lead B

Lead Belly, nickname of Huddie William Ledbetter, 1885–1949, American singer, b. Mooringsport, La. While wandering through Louisiana and Texas, he earned a living by playing the guitar for dances. For a time he joined with Blind Lemon Jefferson, a blues singer, who influenced his future style. Leadbelly's blues and work songs are a survival of the earliest African-American music (see jazz). He was jailed in 1918 for murder and put on a chain gang; he was pardoned in 1925 but was again put in jail for attempted murder (1930–34) and for assault (1939–40). The folklorist John A. Lomax discovered Lead Belly in prison and used his songs for a book, Negro Folk Songs as Sung by Lead Belly (1936). In the 1940s Lead Belly made numerous nightclub appearances, accompanying himself on his 12-string guitar; in 1949 he made a concert tour in France. His most famous compositions are the songs "Irene, Goodnight" and "The Midnight Special." Lead Belly was a master of the 12-string guitar and also played concertina. In the 1940s, Lead Belly made a series of recordings for commercial labels (including Capitol, Asch, and Disc) as well as for the Library of Congress. His so-called "Last Sessions" were recorded in 1948 by folklorist Frederic Ramsey, Jr., and originally issued on Folkways Records in 1953.

See biography by C. Wolfe and K. Lornell (1999)

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