Our Friday, February 27 broadcast on the legendary folk and blues artist Lead Belly may have left a lot of you with empty ears: with such a broad range of musical materials, where should you start? Luckily, guest Jeff Place of the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage offered his take on the best Lead Belly songs to any confused yet eager listener.
Huddie Ledbetter (1889-1949) better known as Lead Belly was a 20th century American folk and popular musician. Born in the Deep South he collected and learned 100s of songs over his lifetime crafting his own versions which have cemented many of them in the minds of listeners. After serving time in prison, in 1933 he was "discovered" by the father-son team of John Lomax, who were in the process of recording their monumental collection of American folk songs for the Library of Congress. After his release he travelled to New York with John Lomax, making it his home for the rest of his life.
He fell in with the "folk music community" in New York, befriending Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger and others. He recorded for various record companies over the next 15 years. Among his musical contributions we have come to know are "Goodnight Irene"; "Rock Island Line", "Where Did You Sleep Last Night" and "Special". The year after his death "Goodnight Irene" became the best selling song in America as performed by his friends the Weavers.
-- Jeff Place