Missing image
Leadbelly, circa 1942; shown with an accordion, though he typically played guitar

Leadbelly (January 29, 1885December 6, 1949) was an influential blues singer and guitarist. He was born Huddie William Ledbetter in Mooringsport, Louisiana, and died in New York in 1949 of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's disease).

Leadbelly was a monumental figure in the history of US folk music. Notable for his forceful singing and guitar playing, but also for the collection of songs he brought to wider attention (many of them adapted from other sources). He was "discovered" by John and Alan Lomax, in prison in Louisiana, where he was recorded on portable recording equipment. It is claimed by Alan Lomax that he was pardoned by the state governor, O.K. Allen, after Allen heard his recordings, which supposedly included an appeal by song directed to him.

Leadbelly subsequently toured extensively but ended up back in prison in 1939, convicted of assault. (He served four separate prison terms for his violent behaviour.)

After this last prison term, Leadbelly moved to New York in 1940 and associated with Woody Guthrie and the young Pete Seeger among others. His best recordings were made for Capitol records in California during the mid 1940s.

Leadbelly played a twelve string guitar and had a high clear voice. One of his best known songs "Goodnight Irene," recorded by many artists, was a number one hit for The Weavers in 1950. Songs that Leadbelly introduced provided material for numerous folk, country, pop and rock acts including Lonnie Donegan, Johnny Cash, Gene Autry, The Beach Boys and Creedence Clearwater Revival. One of the more notable covers of his work in recent time was done by Nirvana in November 1993, when they played Leadbelly's "In the Pines", which was retitled as "Where Did You Sleep Last Night?" as the closer to their legendary appearance for the MTV Unplugged series, which was subsequently released as an album. It should be noted, though, that this song was not originally written by Leadbelly as Cobain had stated.

Huddie Ledbetter is also mentioned in the song Astral Weeks in Van Morrison's seminal album of the same name.


  • Goodnight Irene
  • The Midnight Special
  • Cotton Fields
  • Rock Island Line
  • The Gallis Pole
  • The Bourgeois Blues
  • Looky Looky Yonder
  • Black Betty
  • Yellow Womans Doorbells
  • Grey Goose
  • Where Did You Sleep Last Night
  • Poor Howard
  • Green Corn
  • Dekalb Woman 2
  • Noted Rider
  • Big Fat Woman
  • Borrow Love & Go
  • Bring Me Lil Water Silvy
  • Julie Ann Johnson
  • Line Em
  • Whoa Back Buck
  • John Hardy
  • Pick a Bale of Cotton
  • Alabama Bound
  • Good Morning Blues
  • Leaving Blues
  • Roberta
  • Alberta
  • I'm On My Last Go Round
  • New York City


External links

fr:Leadbelly lb:Leadbelly nl:Leadbelly ru:Лидбелли


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