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The Mudcat Cafesj


Leadbelly - King of the 12 String Guitar
Storytelling Blues

Leadbelly was born by the name Huddie William Ledbetter on January 20, 1889 in Mooringsport, Louisiana. The source of the name Leadbelly is still argued upon, but the most popular theories attribute it to a simple play on his name, his strength, sexual prowess, or a reported buckshot wound to his stomach.

Leadbelly was born on a plantation and was raised in Texas.

His first instrument was the Cajun Accordion, which he was said to have played as a very young child. As he grew, he picked up the guitar and harmonica.

Leadbelly fathered a child by the age of 15 married at 16. He was married for a second time at 35.

He was jailed in 1916 for assault, soon escaped only to be caught again, this time for murder, and sentenced to 30 years. Perhaps good behavior or just good luck got him a pardon after serving 6.5 years of his sentence. He worked for a while outside of music until he was jailed again for assault to kill with intent to murder. He served his sentence there until he was discovered by John and Alan Lomax who were recording field and prison hollers for the Library of Congress. They were so taken by the authenticity and effect that Leadbelly's music had that they talked the Governor into giving him a pardon in 1934.

Leadbelly continued his relationship with the Lomax's as a chauffeur and Folk Singer. By 1936, with the help of the Lomax Brothers, Leadbelly was a popular act at colleges and theatres. He moved to New York City in 1937 where worked clubs and political rallies.

He soon begun to hang with Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Josh White, Burl Ives, Sonny Terry, and Brownie McGhee. With these companions and his previous tours Leadbelly gained a popularity with left wing intellectuals, and was considered radical chic.

Leadbelly spent his last time in jail in 1939 and 1940. His late accomplishments include a short film in Hollywood in 1944 "3 songs by Leadbelly." He also took a trip to France in 1949 making him the first country bluesman to travel to Europe.

Leadbelly died of Lou Gehrig's Disease on December 6, 1949 in New York City.
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