Huddie Ledbetter, known to his fans as Leadbelly, was among the most prominent black folk singers in American history. He exposed the powerful vein of black southern folk music to the American people by reaching back into his past to share his roots with them. His songs, such as "Goodnight Irene" and "Midnight Special", have become part of ...
Huddie Ledbetter, known to his fans as Leadbelly, was among the most prominent black folk singers in American history. He exposed the powerful vein of black southern folk music to the American people by reaching back into his past to share his roots with them. His songs, such as "Goodnight Irene" and "Midnight Special", have become part of American culture, and his music helped to lay the foundations for blues, modern folk music, and rock and roll. But most fans only know an image of Leadbelly, not the complicated personality of the man himself. Portrayed by the popular press of the day as a violent murderer who sang his way off the chain gang, the authors argue that Leadbelly was in fact a strong, proud man who believed in the power of his music enough to uproot his family and leave his injustices of the South, only to encounter different frustrations in streets and clubs of New York. Drawing on new archival material, interviews, and previously unknown recordings, Wolfe and Lornell examine Leadbelly's struggles to define himself and his place during a turbulent era in American culture.
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Publishers Weekly, 1992-11-23 Well researched and thoughtful, this biography depicts the career of Huddie ``Leadbelly'' Ledbetter (1888-1949), among the most influential of American folksingers. Folk music enthusiasts will be familiar with the highlights of Leadbelly's life--how his music earned him a pardon from prison, how folk-music experts John and Alan Lomax discovered and promoted him, how songs he either wrote or embellished (``Goodnight Irene'' and ``Midnight Special,'' for example) have become an integral part of American musical tradition--but it is the level of detail that Wolfe and Lornell bring forward that makes this book a standout. Leadbelly's early years in Louisiana and Texas, his introduction to music and his life in prison are portrayed in a fast-paced style that lends immediacy to the book. The introduction to the Lomaxes, Leadbelly's foray into New York society, his eventual estrangement from John Lomax and his recording and performance career are equally well chronicled in this notable effort. Wolfe is an English professor at Middle Tennessee University; Lornell is a consultant for the Leadbelly Archives at the Smithsonian. Photos not seen by PW. (Dec.)
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