Lead Belly

The Smithsonian Folkways Collection

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Born in 1888, Huddie Ledbetter was the son of a sharecropper; he was born on a Louisiana plantation and learned to play guitar after long days working on his father's farm. After he struck out on his own at the age of 16, Ledbetter's life was full of adventures, both good and bad and including a murder conviction, but while in prison he picked up the nickname Lead Belly, and after writing a handful of great songs (and learning a hundred more) that he made his own with his passionate vocal style that melded blues and folk styles and his distinctive 12-string guitar work, he was freed and became one of the most influential folk artists in American music. Lead Belly recorded literally hundreds of songs over the course of his career (including a number of archival sessions recorded for the Library of Congress), and his music would influence a striking array of artists, from Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, and Odetta to Van Morrison, John Fogerty, and Kurt Cobain. The Smithsonian Folkways Collection is a five-disc box set that represents the first attempt to offer a career-spanning overview of the career of a giant of American music, including 108 tracks, 16 of which see their first release on this collection.

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