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Leadbelly: the 100 most inspiring musicians of all time
Leadbelly (b. Jan. 21, 1885?, Jeter Plantation, near Mooringsport, La., U.S.—d.Dec. 6, 1949, New York, N.Y.).
In conjunction with his notoriously violent life, the ability of American folk-blues singer, songwriter, and guitarist Huddie William Ledbetter—better known as Leadbelly— to perform a vast repertoire of songs made
him a legend.
Musical from childhood, Leadbelly played accordion, 6- and 12-string guitar, bass, and harmonica. He led a wandering life, learning songs by absorbing oral tradition. For a time he worked as an itinerant musician with Blind Lemon Jefferson. In 1918 he was imprisoned in Texas for
murder. According to legend, he won his early release in 1925 by singing a song for the governor of Texas when he visited the prison. “Please Pardon Me,” written and performed by a repentant Leadbelly, undoubtedly helped, but good behavior throughout his sentence was certainly a factor as well.
Resuming a life of drifting, Leadbelly was imprisoned for attempted murder in 1930 in the Angola, La., prison farm. There he was “discovered” by the folklorists John Lomax and Alan Lomax, who were collecting songs for the Library of Congress. A campaign spearheaded by the Lomaxes secured his release in 1934, and he embarked on a concert tour of eastern colleges. Subsequently, he published 48 songs and commentary (1936) about Depression-era conditions of blacks and recorded extensively.
His first commercial recordings were made for the American Record Corporation, which did not take advantage of his huge folk repertory but rather encouraged him to sing blues. He settled in New York City in 1937, struggled to make enough money, and in 1939–40 he was jailed again, this time for assault. When he wasreleased, he worked with Woody Guthrie, Sonny Terry,Brownie McGhee, and others as the Headline Singers,
performed on radio, and, in 1945, appeared in a short film.
In 1949, shortly before his death, he gave a concert in Paris.Leadbelly died penniless, but within six months his song“Goodnight, Irene” had become a million-record hit for the singing group the Weavers; along with other pieces from his repertoire, among them “The Midnight Special” and “Rock Island Line,” “Goodnight, Irene” became a standard.
Leadbelly’s legacy is extraordinary. His recordings reveal his mastery of a great variety of song styles and his prodigious memory; his repertory included more than500 songs. His rhythmic guitar playing and unique vocal accentuations make his body of work both instructive and
compelling. Leadbelly’s influence on later musicians—including Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, and Kurt Cobain—was immense.
The group consisted of Alvin Pleasant Carter, known as A.P. Carter(b. April 15, 1891, Maces Spring, Va., U.S.—d. Nov. 7, 1960, Kentucky),his wife, Sara, née Sara Dougherty (b. July 21, 1898, Flatwoods, Va.,U.S.—d. Jan. 8, 1979, Lodi, Calif.), and his sister-in-law MaybelleCarter, née Maybelle Addington (b. May 10, 1909, Nickelsville, Va.,U.S.—d.Oct. 23, 1978, Nashville, Tenn.).
The Carter Family was a singing group that was aleading force in the spread and popularization of the songs of the Appalachian Mountain region of the eastern United States.The family’s recording career began in 1927 in response to an advertisement placed in a local newspaper by a talent scout for Victor Records. Over the next 16 years, with two
of Sara’s children and three of Maybelle’s (Helen, June, and Anita) also appearing, they recorded more than 300songs for various labels, covering a significant cross section of the mountain music repertory, including old ballads and humorous songs, sentimental pieces from the 19thand early 20th centuries, and many religious pieces.
They later performed extensively on radio, popularizing many songs that became standards of folk and country music, including “Jimmy Brown, the Newsboy,” “Wabash Cannonball,” “It Takes a Worried Man to Sing a Worried Song,” and “Wildwood Flower.”
The Carter Family was remarkable not only for its prolific recording but also for the musical accomplishment—and balance—of its members. A.P. was the group’s songsmith. He was an avid collector of oral tradition, as
well as an adept arranger of rural regional repertoire for consumption by a broader audience. A.P. also composed many new songs for the group, replicating the style of the traditional material. Sara, with her strong soprano voice, was typically the lead singer, supported by Maybelle’s alto
harmonies and A.P.’s bass and baritone interjections. The instrumental anchor of the Carter Family was Maybelle, a skilled performer on guitar, banjo, and autoharp. She also developed a unique finger-picking technique on guitar that continues to be emulated by many guitarists today.
In 1943 the Carter Family disbanded, its members subsequently forming various other groups. Maybelle(“Mother”) Carter performed both with her daughters and as a soloist. In the 1950s, the Carter Family re-formed and
appeared intermittently, with a changing lineup. The original Carter Family was the first group admitted to the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Maybelle also sang periodically with her son-in-law Johnny Cash, whose gritty songs of social commentary had already propelled him to the top of the country-and western music industry. Known for his black clothes and rebellious persona, Cash married June Carter in 1968during a period of waning popularity, after she helped him combat his drug addiction. The signal event in Cash’turnaround was the album Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison(1968), recorded live at California’s Folsom Prison.
He won a new generation of fans in 1994 after the release of his acoustic album, American Recordings. The recipient of numerous awards, Cash won 13 Grammy Awards, including a lifetime achievement award in 1999, and 9 CountryMusic Association Awards. Cash was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1980 and to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992. In 1996 he received a Kennedy Center Honor.
Leadbelly – Greatest Hits (FULL ALBUM)
01- Cotton Fields
02- The Gallis Pole
03- Ain’t Study War No More
04- Alabama Bound
06- Eagle Rock Rag
07- Good Morning Blues
08- I Got A Pretty Flower
09- New York City
10- Take This Hammer
11- Swing Low, Sweet Chariot
12- Corn Bread Rough
13- Mr. Hitler
14- Pick A Ball Of Cotton
15- Whoa Back Buck
16- Where Did You Sleep Last Night?
17- Big Fat Woman Blues
19- John Hardy
20- On Monday
Leadbelly – Greatest Hits (FULL ALBUM)